Regular Coeliacs will know that we welcomed the recent EU legislation that shifted the classification for 'gluten free' from 200ppm to 20ppm or less. At last - a lower level of 'gluten free' that can only be good for all Coeliacs we thought. And so it was. However, at the same time we had a nagging doubt - would retailers bother to pay to get their products re-tested to see if they conformed to the new levels? Would they make the effort to shout loudly and proudly that their products were 'gluten free'.
Sadly our niggly doubts were confirmed. Doritos removed their 'suitable for coeliacs' label. Walkers likewise. Many of M&S products that were formally 'gluten free' were now 'unsuitable for coeliacs due to the manufacturing methods'. You get the idea. 'Thanks for the honesty retailers' we thought but bugger - you've left us with less choice than before. Luckily some great new businesses emerged like @perkierfoods @sweetmandarins and trusty @burtscrisps continued to embrace their gluten free labelling and shout it from the rooftops.
However, all was not simple. No. For there emerged a new gluten free label on the block known by the street name 'NGCI' (or rather 'no gluten containing ingredients'). Hmm. What does this mean we mused? We googled, we read the FSA website we consulted EU Coeliac Societies and we gathered a fuller picture of what NGCI really stood for.
Can you guess?
Well many of our friends simply thought it meant it was safe for ingredients i.e no gluten inside was how they read it. Many newbie Coeliacs told us on our Facebook page that they thought it meant Gluten Free. Yet the FSA website (http://www.food.gov.uk/science/research/allergy-research/allergy-labelling/consumerunderstandlabellingterms#.UR6bmlrfxgI) clearly stated it wasn't a legal term and it didn't mean an item was gluten free. No instead it was devised after much lobbying by Coeliac UK & suppliers to the FSA as a,
'new statement which could appear on packaging, menus or product lists to highlight that a product does not contain cereals containing gluten as an ingredient.'
Oh and the FSA also undertook research..
'A qualitative approach was used on this project, with thirty-four respondents'. Yes that's right just 34 respondents were interviewed. Hmm. Not exactly a strong sample size was it?
So back to our point, NGCI wasn't ever meant to be included on product labelling?
'No' said the FSA official when we rang to research this in January, 'the statement was so that 'sensitive' Coeliacs have some extra reassurance when they are eating out. As often catering food supplies aren't labelled gluten free. Instead product lists or catering packages to pubs and restaurants can indicate that they are NGCI, so giving Coeliacs extra choice and reassurance'.
When we explained that we'd regularly seen products labelled as this in our local supermarkets instead the FSA recommended we email them the details and pictures.
'We'll happily contact the producers and explain how the labelling is meant to be used'. So we did.
So if you're already confused by all of this how do you feel about a new law that plans to shake up food and nutritional labelling?
The European Commission has published information on a new Food Information Regulation to make food labelling easier to understand for consumers. It's been in consultation phase and many Coeliac Societies are involved. So if you want your voice heard to avoid future 'bad decisions' then start email your local Coeliac society with your viewpoint. Although the consultation period finished on 30 Jan you can still steer and shape the negotiations that follow!
Read up on these links below so you understand the key changes for yourself. Oh and yes there are a few. You see sadly the new Coalition Government took many of the consumer food & safety responsibilities and policy and split them between DEFRA and the FSA. Wonder if that is why the horsemeat scandal is such a mess - errr we digress!
EU Journal: eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriSer...
The new regulation, called Food Information to Consumers Regulation (FIC), includes many rules on food and nutrition labelling into a single EU regulation and covers areas like:
>making labelling clearer by setting a minimum text size
(this might make it easier to read ingredient labels handy for all Coeliacs)
> highlighting allergens in the ingredients list, rather than allergen boxes
(The FSA explained that too many mistakes by food producers led to allergens missing from the allergen box but being included in the full ingredient list which not everyone read. So reasoning is that scrapping the allergen box will remove this risk. We wonder if this will work? The new approach is that everyone will have to 'bold' allergens in the labelling list.)
>needing nutritional information on most foods
Note: many of the requirements will not apply until 2014, while nutritional labelling must happen by 2016.
Hmm time to get emailing and making your voice heard to the FSA & your EU Coeliac Society.
Further information can be found on the Food Standards Agency website, in the Journal of the European Union and on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) website.
Note: There will are further, separate consultations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. So if you're based there you still have time to contact your authorities during the consultation period.
Got all that?!