A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, and conducted by researchers at the University of Western Australia, has found that food products imported into Australia labelled “gluten-free” often contain gluten.
The presence of gluten in imported food products is mostly due to the Australian definition of gluten-free being different from the international standard.
The Australian standard dictates that foods labelled gluten-free must contain “no detectable gluten”. Yet, international standards are more lenient, allowing levels of gluten of up to 20 part-per-million (ppm) for food products labelled as gluten-free.
Impact on coeliacs
The lower standard for international labelling can be troublesome for those that have coeliacs disease.
Coeliacs disease is a common disease affecting approximately 1 in 70 Australians. It has one sole treatment – a strict, lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet. A diet that can be difficult to maintain as many food products contain some level of gluten.
While gluten sensitivity varies among individuals with coeliacs disease, gluten at a rate of one part-per-million is generally considered a safe level for most coeliacs.
Results of the study
Clinical Professor Geoff Forbes conducted the study by purchasing 169 gluten-free food products that had been imported to Australia. He then tested these products for the presence of gluten.
Gluten was found in 24 of the products. He found that 20 items contained less than 1.0 ppm, three had 1.0 ppm and one had 1.1ppm.
Findings of the study
Despite the fact that the study found gluten in approximately one in seven products, it was generally found to be within safe levels for consumption. This means that coeliacs can confidently eat products labelled gluten free in Australia.
When discussing the implications of the study, Professor Forbes commented on the different international and Australian gluten free standards, stating that “The standard in Australia is impractical and the international standard is too lax,”
“We recommended that Australian authorities revise the current Australian standard of ‘no detectable gluten’ to ‘one ppm or less’ as it is not practical or reasonable for industry to comply with the current Australian standard,” he further added.
Key facts on coeliacs disease
- Coeliacs disease is genetic and can affect people of all ages, both male and female.
- Approximately 1 in 70 Australians has coeliacs disease. However, 80% remain undiagnosed
- Untreated coeliac disease is related to chronic systemic inflammation and malabsorption of nutrients
- Coeliacs disease can not be cured, the only recognised medical treatment is a strict gluten-free diet
- Sticking to a gluten-free diet can help prevent many of the health of the health conditions associated with coeliacs disease
For more information on Coeliac disease, you can visit Coeliac Australia.