The ‘gluten free’ market is growing in both Australia and New Zealand and in response to this growth the Allergen Bureau, Coeliac Australia, Coeliac New Zealand and the Australian Food and Grocery Council have issued a statement to provide some clarity around ‘gluten free’ claims in the hope it may help food manufacturers and retailers better understand how best to label their products to provide useful information for consumers with food related diseases, allergies and intolerances. Certain food products sold in Australia and New Zealand have been found to carry both a ‘gluten free’ claim as well as a precautionary ‘May contain gluten’ statement. These contradictory statements can be confusing to consumers and contribute to lack of confidence in labelling. They may also be in breach of both countries’ fair trading legislation (there to prevent misleading and deceptive conduct) with the potential for significant penalties.
In Australia and New Zealand, allergen free claims such as ‘gluten free’ are specifically regulated by mandatory food standards. Other claims, like ‘dairy free’, are subject to general consumer protection laws. In both cases, claims are allowed provided they meet the necessary legal requirements. Claims must also be supported by evidence of adequate due diligence. This could include a risk assessment, similar to that used in the VITAL® Program, considered Best Practice, which concludes the allergen is not likely to be present under normal Good Manufacturing Practice and, where applicable, supported by periodic product testing using an appropriate sampling program and method of analysis.
With a robust allergen management plan and validated cleaning processes and ongoing verification, it may be possible for the same production line to be used to make both products containing allergens as well as products that are allergen free. However, if a VITAL® assessment concludes there is a risk the product may contain the allergen, and especially if the conclusion is that a ‘May be present’ label is warranted, this would contradict and be incompatible with an ‘allergen free’ claim on that product.
If an ‘allergen free’ product is tested by an enforcement agency, possibly as a result of a customer complaint or incident, and found to contain detectable levels of that allergen, the manufacturer would likely be required to recall the product. Depending on the severity of the situation, they may also face prosecution.
Importers bringing food into Australia and New Zealand should be aware that in many parts of the world, including in North America, the EU and those countries that adopt Codex Alimentarius standards, the limit for a ‘gluten free’ food is 20 ppm gluten or less. As a result, many of the ‘gluten free’ foods sold in these international markets do not meet the current standard for ‘gluten free’ in Australia and New Zealand.
For further information:
ANZ Food Standards Code – Standard 1.2.7 – Nutrition, Health and Related Claims and Schedule 4
VITAL Best Practice Labelling Guide for ANZ
AFGC Food Industry Guide to Allergen Management and Labelling