“They made a decision that was based on scientific evidence,” Fasano said, adding that the ruling will finally will give celiac sufferers peace of mind in restaurants and grocery stores. “Now they don’t have to stress out,” he said. “Now they know there are rules, that there are parameters. It’s a big deal.”
Congress directed the FDA to set guidelines for the use of the term gluten-free when it passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. The agency organized a public meeting on the topic the following year and solicited input from a wide range of parties, including medical professionals, food manufacturers and millers.
The FDA published a proposed rule in 2007 but continued to study the matter for years, saying it required careful consideration and technical analysis, such as determining how accurately manufacturers could test gluten levels in their products. The agency asked for another round of public comment in 2011 and sent its proposal to the White House earlier this year for final review.
While the U.S. government tried to settle on a definition of gluten-free, countries including Australia and Canada have set labeling standards of their own. Those standards generally are in line with the definition the FDA set Friday.
In recent years, more and more people have begun buying gluten-free bread, pasta, cereal and other staples, as well as gluten-free beer and wine.
The research firm Packaged Facts reported last year that the market for gluten-free products in the United States has grown more than expected, reaching $4.2 billion. “The conviction that gluten-free products are generally healthier is the top motivation for consumers of these products,” the firm said in its report, which projected that U.S. sales of gluten-free foods and beverages would cross $6.6 billion by 2017.
“It’s great that there’s finally a standard. There was a lot of unknown before today,” said Courtney Mesmer, president of the D.C. Metro Celiac Organization, who has been dealing with the disease herself for years. “It gives us an element of certainty knowing [that companies] are not just slapping on a ‘gluten-free’ label.”