"Our concern is that as the sensitivity of the test improves it will impact on the ability of manufacturers to confidently label their products as gluten free,": Penny Dellsperger.
"Our concern is that as the sensitivity of the test improves it will impact on the ability of manufacturers to confidently label their products as gluten free": Penny Dellsperger. Photo: Steve Christo

Neil McMahon

The food standard for gluten-free products may be relaxed to encourage manufacturers to stay in the market.

Coeliac Australia said it would support an application being prepared by the Australian Food and Grocery Council to have the gluten free-definition modified by Food Standards Australia.

It fears that meeting the existing standard will become so onerous food manufacturers will abandon the market altogether.

"Our concern is that as the sensitivity of the test improves it will impact on the ability of manufacturers to confidently label their products as gluten free,'' said Penny Dellsperger of Coeliac Australia. ''We might lose the term gluten free all together."

An Australian Food and Grocery Council spokesman confirmed it was backing the new labelling standards ''because eventually no one will be able to claim [their products] are gluten free at all".

Nutritionist Dr Jaci Barrett said existing labelling standards were unsustainable. "Our cut-off of what is gluten-free food has been driven by the improvement in laboratory techniques … we've ended up with this very strict cut-off and the possibility is that it ends up cutting it right back and people don't need it reduced to that extent."

Debate about the changes coincides with additional concerns that gluten-free diets are being widely embraced by people who have no medical need to follow the regimen.

''That comes at a cost,'' Ms Dellsperger said.

"There's a perception that people who are gluten free are just fussy. For those with coeliac disease, the gluten-free diet is a medical necessity - it's not a lifestyle choice - so you can get tarred with that same brush and not taken as seriously."

Coeliac disease affects approximately 1 per cent of the population.