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Imported gluten-free foods: free of gluten?

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To the Editor: The recent hepatitis A outbreak associated with imported berries has brought the problem of imported food quality acutely into the public spotlight. By contrast, the serious adverse effects for many people with coeliac disease of non-compliant imported foods being labelled “gluten-free” (GF) is more insidious and less easily assessed.

Concern has previously been expressed about proposals to raise the amount of gluten permitted in GF foods.1 In Australia, the current standard for claiming that a food is “gluten-free” is that it contains “no detectable gluten”;2 on the basis of the limits of current laboratory test sensitivity, this equates to less than 3 parts per million (ppm).

Closely aligned with this concern is the fact that imported food labelled “GF” may comply with standards in the country of manufacture but not with tighter Australian standards. For example, “GF” in Europe and North America indicates gluten levels of less than 20 ppm; accordingly, GF-labelled foods imported from these regions may contain detectable gluten. Further, gluten-level testing of GF-labelled foods is not mandatory in the United States;3 in one report, 20% of US foods labelled “GF” did not comply with the Food and Drug Administration…