An imminent application by the Australian Food & Grocery Council (AFGC) to broaden the definition of the term 'gluten free' in Australia has met with opposition from some quarters.
Allergy-focused food processor, Freedom Foods, has stated that it opposes a push to allow food containing up to 20 milligrams of gluten per kilogram to fall into the gluten-free category.
Currently, food manufacturers must ensure there is no detectable level of gluten in foods when making a gluten-free claim under Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) regulations.
The AFGC, however, is preparing to submit an application to FSANZ calling for the relaxation of the gluten-free definition in line with standards in the UK and Europe.
This, it says, would open the way for more international manufacturers of gluten-free products, boosting the product options for gluten-free consumers – but could also result in an influx of cheaper imports for local manufacturers.
Freedom Foods, meanwhile, said that the lowering of the high FSANZ standards risked misleading and confusing consumers, and would also remove Australia's competitive advantage in the global food market where Australian gluten-free foods are seen as the safest and most trusted option for consumers.
“The export potential of Australian gluten-free foods is in its infancy and presents a major opportunity for local food manufacturers – a major policy change proposed by the AFGC will weaken our food industry’s competitive position,” the company said.
Freedom Foods wrote that with Coeliac disease on the rise, gluten intolerance so prevalent and food safety so critical, the FSANZ regulations – which were the highest requirements in the world – had been designed to preserve Australia and New Zealand’s proud tradition of being a safe, clean and trusted food industry.
“It is a reputation we cannot lose – either with consumers in our own markets, or in fact on the broader international stage. Australia currently exports nearly 60 per cent of the food we produce so our reputation is intrinsic to the long-term sustainability of our domestic food industry,” the company wrote.
Once the application is submitted to FSANZ, it will undergo a full review and if accepted will be published for public comment and input.
The AFGC told Food & Drink Business it had worked closely with Coeliac Australia, the body that represents sufferers of the condition, and has the support of this organisation and its medical board.
The proposed new level of gluten is based on current medical data attesting to a safe threshold level of gluten consumption in patients with coeliac disease, that this level is also supported by leading medical researchers in Australia.
This level is supported internationally and was recommended by Codex (an arm of WHO and FAO) in 1998 and reviewed again in 2008, according to the AFGC.
“It should be noted we have extensively surveyed our members and they overwhelming support an application of this nature. However, our submission will include alternative views," said an AFGC spokesperson.