Allergens on the Glacier Ride Through Government

The visible movement of glaciers must be measured in decades and so, too, it seems does government.  Way back in May 2010, I wrote a blog post about Health Canada possibly recognizing pure (wheat, barley, rye free) oats as gluten free.  Here’s the original post:  http://alanaelliott.com/2010/gluten-free-now-possible-for-oats-in-canada/

And now finally on November 14, 2014, it was announced that Canada’s Health Minister intends to change the marketing regulations to allow for pure oats to be called gluten free.   Here’s their announcement:  http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/consult/2014-oats-gluten-avoine-eng.php

But let’s not get too hasty here, this is not a 100% done deal.  You’ll note that it is only a “proposed” amendment to the marketing claims.  Wouldn’t want to move too fast, right?  Arrgh!  Of course, my company does use pure oats and was one of the first to do so in April of 2007.  I’ve been part of all of the comment periods as a “stakeholder”.  Not sure if this means I should get too big for my britches; they don’t seem to keep me any more informed than any other ordinary Canadian.  However, it does mean that I don’t let go easily and so, since they wanted comments on their November 14 announcement, I obliged yet again as follows:

I am absolutely in favour of the labeling laws changing to allow for the labeling of pure, uncontaminated oats that are grown under specific protocols and test to under 20 ppm as gluten free.

I originally commented as a stakeholder in the previous comment period (ending July 2011) and urged the government to review the science of oats and make a determination based specifically on that science, not on emotional rhetoric from outdated recommendations.

My company began using pure oats in 2007 (as Nonuttin’ Foods), and was one of the first to do so in value-added agriculture products in our snacks and cereals.  From a business standpoint, has been highly frustrating following the laws for labeling and advertising pure oats while seeing less-scrupulous Canadian and American companies get away with gluten free certification logos and marketing claims about gluten free for years.  It’s led to us constantly trying to educate customers both online and face to face at Celiac and gluten free trade shows only to see their eyes glaze over.

To that point, only a month ago I was in my local health food store and noticed 2 ladies discussing what oats were suitable for gluten free diets.  I stepped in when they chose the organic oats located below the pure oats and explained that they needed to look for “pure” or “wheat free” oats to be safe for their needs.  They had absolutely no idea because, in the attempt to mitigate oat reactions within a tiny minority of Celiac sufferers, the labeling was entirely confusing for the vast majority of people who need gluten free diets.

With this new declaration, you’ve also saved our British Columbia business from misplaced consumer anger.  We’ve had Canadians verbally attack us for using oats, particularly if they accidentally get on our American site where we proudly state our gluten free certification as per US labeling/advertising laws.  The last time we got a nasty email about this issue was within the last month.

Let me reiterate:  This new labeling is absolutely the way to go to reduce consumer confusion, introduce another nutrition filled whole grain to the gluten free diet, and above all, recognize the science that allows for the inclusion of oats in a healthy gluten free diet.

As you may recognize from my comments, the last 7 and a half years of using pure oats but being unable to call them gluten free in Canada has led to many frustrations, especially since I’ve always been very diligent about clear and honest labeling and following all rules while others have not.  But at least I did get a personal email back, thanking me for my comments – truly Canadian!

If, after the comment period ends in January, we do indeed get the formal okay to call pure oats gluten free, we will be the 2nd last country to do so.  Only Australia remains as the holdout.  What I have learned with all of this though is not to hold my breath.  I can only hope that it won’t take another 4 and a half years to make the final change.

Let this be a lesson to those in the US who might be feeling a little smug about our Canadian backward ways as you read.  You’ve got the same multi-year battle ahead of you right now with sesame food allergen labeling which, ahem, is already labeled in Canada.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest, with the support of many food allergy experts, announced November 18th that it is calling on the FDA to add sesame to the required food allergen labeling in the USA.  https://www.cspinet.org/new/201411181.html

Get on board!  It may take an awfully long time but David did slay Goliath.  Our fellow food allergy friends and moms deserve our support, no matter how long it takes.