Consumer avoidance of gluten is impacting grain grower industry

According to reports from the CSIRO, more than 10 per cent of Australians actively avoid gluten. While the populations’ wheat consumption fluctuates, latest figures indicate about 30 per cent fewer grains are being consumed now than four years ago. Two recent international grain industry forums have featured discussions around consumer perception of gluten and avoidance of Australian wheat.

The 12th International Gluten Biotechnology workshop was hosted in Perth in September by the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC), Murdoch University and the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA). AEGIC Chief Executive Officer, David Fienberg, acknowledged gluten was becoming a driver of consumer decisions and that those perceptions could have an impact on the future demand for quality Australian wheat exports. He called for more research into understanding exactly what it is within the wheat genome, as well as other grains, that may cause reactions in certain people.

At the International Wheat Conference in Sydney last month, delegates heard that a growing number of consumers each year identify as having an intolerance to dietary gluten and are turning away from wheat-based products as a result. Dr John Williams, Managing Director of Food and Fibre at the Supply Chain Institute, said the trend is a concern to the millers, bakers and wheat growers. Part of the issue appears to be linked with the propensity for bakers and food manufacturers to add gluten to wheat products in order to turn out a quick loaf of bread as cheaply as possible. Additionally, consumers are adding high levels of non-fermented wheat products like pasta and noodles to their diets. The cumulative effects of these practices may be causing ‘gluten overload’ which manifests as digestive problems and other symptoms. Dr Williams reportedly said the industry was working on several fronts to counter some of the issues consumers are finding with wheat products.

It is perhaps timely then that researchers in Italy have just published a review paper which looks at the risk factors for coeliac disease. Variables, such as infant feeding and weaning practices, as well as timing of gluten introduction in the diet and the role for infectious agents and microbiota composition in disease development, are each discussed in this open access paper.