Saturday, Dec 10, 2016
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EDITORIAL

Gluten-free?

Concern about gluten in food is relatively new, and may seem like a fad. But Americans who suffer from celiac disease know it’s not to be taken lightly.

Yet until now, that is how the voluntary labeling of food sold as “gluten-free” has been taken. The advertising claim was not regulated.

That ended this week, when a new rule by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took effect. From now on, foods that are labeled gluten-free must include less than 20 parts per million — an amount research suggests should be negligible. Many manufacturers were already meeting this standard, but now it’s more than a matter of scout’s honor.

Americans with celiac disease — an estimated 3 million, roughly one in 141 people — have one less thing to worry about. Gluten refers to proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye, barley, and hybrids of these grains, making common food products such as pasta and baked goods problematic for sufferers.

For those who have this inherited chronic disorder, foods that include gluten trigger production of antibodies that attack the lining of the small intestine, curbing the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. This can lead to serious health problems, including nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, miscarriages, and intestinal cancers.

The new rule applies to packaged foods that manufacturers voluntarily wish to label as gluten-free. The FDA says restaurants that make the claim on menus should follow the same definition.

Government regulation is often criticized as onerous. But here’s a case where millions of people — not only those who have celiac disease, but also others who want to avoid gluten as a lifestyle choice — are given peace of mind, and manufacturers are given a common standard.

No argument: This new rule is a healthy development.

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