‘Important changes’ as gluten-free label laws move under FIC

FIC gluten-free labeling: Logos remain outside the remit of FIC, the European Commission ruled [Pictured: Coeliac UK's crossed grain symbol]

Rules on gluten-free labeling have been published under the EU Food Information to Consumers (FIC) regulation, and there are some important changes for the future, says the Association of European Coeliac Societies (AOECS).

Changes, published July 30 in the EU journal, include a move away from PARNUT (foodstuffs for particular nutritional uses) regulation, inclusion of non pre-packed gluten-free foods and alternative on-pack phrases.

Laws on gluten-free labeling under FIC will apply from July 20, 2016 - the date the old European Commission (EC) regulation No. 41/2009 will be repealed - to ensure continuity with existing rules.

While the shift under FIC will see the majority of rules from 41/2009 maintained, there were some “important changes for the future”, said Tunde Koltai, board director for AOECS and president of the Hungarian Coeliac Society.

For example, gluten-free products were no longer subject to PARNUT regulation and therefore were no longer ‘dietetic’ foods, she told BakeryandSnacks.com.

“Consequently, the claim ‘gluten-free’ and ‘very low gluten’ will be similar to any other claims,” she said. 

Gluten-free foods were better suited to FIC than PARNUT, she said, because they were closer to ‘normal’ foods. She said foodstuffs under PARNUT regulation were closer to pharmaceutical products – infant formulas, for example.

Under FIC, it would be easier for gluten-free manufacturers to develop new products, change formulations and freely discuss methods of manufacturing, she explained, which was better overall for the industry. “Gluten-free products are always renewed – this is a life-long story.”

Koltai said the AOECS would have preferred to keep gluten-free foods separate from both FIC and PARNUT entirely – kept under the old 41.2009 law – but added this was never an option presented by the EC.

However, under FIC, she said there should be an increased level of protection for celiac consumers as rules around gluten-free labeling would be extended to non pre-packed foods.

The EC clarified ‘gluten-free’ statements could feature on specially formulated gluten-free products, as well as those naturally free from gluten.

'Suitable for celiacs' - hope for consolidation

She said the shift under FIC regulation should help consolidate mandatory labeling of gluten-free across the EU.

The EC has backed use of ‘suitable for celiacs’ and ‘specifically formulated for celiacs’ – already used by some member states – as alternative on-pack phrases to ‘suitable for people intolerant to gluten’ and ‘specifically formulated for people intolerant to gluten’.

While concerns had been raised over this causing consumer confusion, the EC noted that use of ‘suitable for celiacs’ was already used in some EU markets, for example the UK, and had not caused confusion. 

Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE) welcomed this move, saying it would help celiac consumers distinguish healthy substitutes for foods that normally contained gluten. “Celiac sufferers can now continue to trust the foods which are essential to them in managing their intolerance,” said SNE president Roger Clarke.

However, Koltai said there remained concerns around certain on-pack texts like ‘can contain traces of gluten or wheat protein’.

Gluten-free logos still outside remit

Calls had been made to regulate use of gluten-free logos under FIC to ensure logos accompanied, rather than replaced, on-pack statements to avoid confusion.

However, the EC maintained that regulations on gluten-free logos remained outside the remit of FIC, as it had with EC regulation 41/2009.

Coeliac UK and the Association of European Coeliac Societies have started to use the crossed wheat logo in a bid to standardize across industry – a private trade mark owned by Coeliac UK.

Koltai said use of the logo meant higher safety for celiacs and increased trust in products bearing the symbol.

Companies wishing to use the crossed grain logo on authorized products had to sign the AOECS’ European licensing contract to ensure compliance with HACCP guidelines, she explained.

Matters were agreed on at the European Commission’s (EC) standing committee on the food chain and animal health held in Brussels on June 13, in light of the rules around food information to consumers (FIC).

The full text on the gluten-free label laws can be found HERE.

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