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WASHINGTON -- In an effort to help people with celiac disease better follow strict dietary requirements, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday proposed a new definition for gluten-free foods. The new standards will place tighter restrictions on makers of products claiming to be free of gluten-containing grains such as wheat and barley.
A number of companies currently advertise their foods as "gluten-free," but they follow inconsistent standards, according to the FDA.
"Currently there is neither a regulatory definition of the term 'gluten free,' nor is there agreement among manufacturers or consumers as to what this term means," the agency said in a proposal posted on its Web site.
Under the new rules, foods claiming to be "gluten-free" must not contain any type of wheat, rye, or barley, including hybrids. They also can't use any ingredient made from such grains without having the gluten removed first.
Foods that carry the claim, but fail to meet the definition "would be deemed misbranded," the FDA said. Those that are naturally free of gluten and carry the claim without saying all such foods are also gluten-free would be considered in violation.
About 1.5 million to 3 million Americans have celiac disease, but just 40,000 to 60,000 have been diagnosed by a physician, according to the FDA.
The public has 90 days to comment on the proposal, posted online at http://www.fda.gov/OHRMS/DOCKETS/98fr/05n-0279-npr0001.pdf, before the agency makes its final ruling.