Labeling Laws and Product Warning

In a globalized world where products cross vast oceans, and millions of people deal with food allergies and diet mediated diseases everyday, it would make sense for there to be some sort of universal labeling laws on food and drugs. Yet, we don’t live in a world where that is the case. We live in a world where nation by nation we set our own standards on what is safe, and what is not. This does make sense as well, because some nations may wish to set higher standards than others. However, there should be some base standard by which we are all held accountable, and then each country can strive for a higher goal should they wish.

In the United States there is currently no law governing the use of the words “gluten free” on a product. There are recommendations, and this is found on the FDA website:

“Does the agency have a current definition for “gluten-free”?

No. Currently, there is no FDA regulation that defines the term “gluten-free.” However, FDA has not objected to the use of the term “gluten-free” in the labeling of foods, provided that when such a claim is made, it is truthful and not misleading.”

The United Kingdom doesn’t allow gluten free labeling on food products containing more than 20 parts per million of gluten. The US Food and Drug Administration has been considering a similar law since 2007, and has been looking at gluten free labeling laws since at least 2005. Here is what they propose:

“How is the FDA proposing to define the term “gluten-free”?
FDA proposes to define the term “gluten-free” to mean that a food bearing this claim in its labeling does not contain any one of the following:
-An ingredient that is a prohibited grain
-An ingredient that is derived from a prohibited grain and that has not been processed to remove gluten
-An ingredient that is derived from a prohibited grain and that has been processed to remove gluten, if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food or
20 ppm or more gluten”

But, a recommendation and a proposition do not protect us. Nor do voluntary labels of “may contain…” and “made on shared equipment.”

My reason for bringing this up is because I fell victim to this lack of labeling last night. I have been using Patak’s curry paste for five years without incident. Yet, it can be the only thing I ate yesterday to do me in as all of the other foods I ate were fresh fruits and vegetables, home cooked beans, and other naturally gluten free foods. The curry paste was the only processed food product I ate.

So, after suffering the ills of a glutening last night I did my research again. I trusted the gluten free label on the jar of curry paste; and it makes sense that I did after so many years of no incident. But, after feeling that bad I had to analyze what I ate to determine a possible source of gluten. First thing this morning I called Patak’s USA distribution company. I spoke with a very nice customer service representative who informed me that the product is made in the United Kingdom (I knew that), and that the product is manufactured on shared equipment. She pointed out that the equipment is cleaned between uses, but that possible cross contamination could occur. I asked her if the company did any sort of testing for gluten, such as the ELISE testing. She said that they do not. However, according to UK law the company would have to test for gluten so that they could ensure the product would be under the 20 parts per million limit so that they could label it gluten free. Since she said they didn’t test I proceeded to look up the Patak’s UK website. Their website states that in 2010 the company stopped using gluten free labeling because of changes in labeling laws. So, while the product is not safe enough for the UK market, the US distributor believes it is safe enough for the US market and therefore labels the product gluten free.

This seems very wrong to me.

If it isn’t safe enough in one country, why is it safe enough in another?

It seems that it isn’t any safer in the US than in the UK, as my body can tell you. So, now I need to change my meal plan for the next month (at least). I need to eliminate any recipes containing dairy, and I need to incorporate very healing foods into my plan. I’m glad I already put a new bottle of probiotics on the shopping list, and that I’d bought a carton of non-dairy milk last week.

Oh, and did you know that Canada is going to start labeling foods with warnings about possible cross contamination next month, and that they’ve had 20 ppm labeling for the last 20 years?! (For more on Canadian labeling laws check out this great post from Gluten Free Chickie.) Come on US FDA. Get it together. Seven years is long enough.

6 thoughts on “Labeling Laws and Product Warning”

  1. Aaargggh! Too many posts like this from gluten free folks who get sick for days and sometimes weeks because of no gluten free labelling law the US. :( Come on USA – start caring about the health and safety of your citizens and give us what we not only want but desperately need!

  2. I’m so sorry that happened and hope you’re feeling better now. It does seem the US is way behind on an important policy.

    I have to watch my glycemic index now and wish the same thing although just a little bit of a high glycemic food won’t affect me as much, for you I know just a tad of gluten can greatly affect you. But I do wish labels had the glycemic index as well.

    1. The glycemic load of a food will probably be a while more as well on the wait list for what goes on the label. Haha, with all of us and our differing needs of information they won’t have much room left on the label for marketing.

      Oh, and congratulations on the Best of Maui win for your blog. You’ve definitely earned it! :)

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