In Australia we can’t call any product containing oats gluten-free, but what does “wheat free” mean?
Here in Australia, we do things a bit differently. We often celebrate and embrace this as our uniqueness, but in other scenarios, like this one, I believe we are creating enormous confusion, unrest, and more importantly leading consumers to believe that “wheat free“ also means gluten-free. We are lagging behind, and this is potentially dangerous. In fact, I would go as far as to say that labelling any product “wheat free” and then promoting them to people specifically looking to source gluten-free foods, is dangerous. Let’s have a look at this a bit deeper.
First, what does the word Gluten actually mean? Gluten is the word used to describe the prolamin protein fraction in grains – things such as gliadin in wheat; hordein in barley; secalin in rye and avenin in oats. It is true that we are unable to label oats as “gluten-free oats” in Australia at the moment. This labelling law was based on a study published in 2006 (a little out of date me thinks). The 2006 study was conducted using mainstream oats, and at the time nobody knew about cross-contamination. This study returned a gluten reading during testing, and incorrectly surmised that the oats contained gluten – the reading was actually the result of cross contamination.
Fast forward to 2021 after a number of further studies completed overseas (here are the links) it has been discovered that oats are in fact quite different to their counterparts, and that gluten is a combination of proteins (the part that helps food stay together or maintains it shape eg. bread). If you try and make a loaf of bread from just oat flour, guess what? It falls apart. Further studies indicate overseas that 1 in 100 Coeliac reacted to uncontaminated oats or gluten-free oats; however in this study no one suffered any long-term effects. It is recommended here in Australia that a coeliac participates in an oat study via their medical practitioner, prior to consuming our oats, to see if they have an immune response to the protein Avenin in oats.
Labelling of Gluten Free Oats
Here at GF Oats, we are so passionate about our oats being suitable for people avoiding gluten, that we have been forced to be creative about how we label our products to help our customers find us. And find us they have, with over 200 tonnes being sold within Australia and New Zealand. See, the problem is that people want oats which are uncontaminated from gluten, but the labelling is confusing. It is a highly nutritious addition to a diet where people are avoiding gluten but are faced with having to feed themselves or their loved ones GMO corn, soy and refined sugar-laden products that are also not a nutritious option for people.
With the imminent wait for the publishing of the Oat study from Monash University late 2021, and with the support of industry such as the Australian Food Council, Grains and Legumes Association, Australian Small Business Ombusman & CSIRO, we are hopeful that the relabelling of gluten free oats is not far on the horizon. In the meantime we have chosen to label our Oats as Gluten Friendly, to enable us to stand out from other oat brands who are attempting to capitalise on a growing market – one that GF Oats has passionately led since 2009.
Let’s look at Wheat Free Labelling
The labelling of products as Wheat Free has been something that we as a brand adopted early on in our journey, and we still refer to it as a benefit on our packaging. However, I realised that this was potentially dangerous when I heard of people reacting to an oats product in the supermarkets in 2016 which was labelled ‘Wheat free’. That product has since been discontinued, but it occurred to me that with no industry guidelines in the Australian labelling laws around this food claim, this could be potentially dangerous. Oat products imported, very often only have to meet a gluten-free threshold of <10ppm. Here in Australia we are a lot stricter with <3ppm. Please note as part of our Global Oats Protocol guidelines we must meet the Australian standards, you can see all our test results published on our Compliance Page.
I have addressed this issue with the Australian Coeliac Society who have recognised that this is a potential issue and consequently are updating their status on oats and their recommendations to consumers searching for gluten-free oats.
Consumers are craving our beautiful oats – we have the proof
We have proven by the growth we experienced in 2020, by importing over 100 tonnes of oats from our farmers in the USA.
- we have proven that over 11 years of operating
- we have proven it by attracting farmers who are now interested in Australia in growing oats that is uncontaminated
- we have proven it with the support of National Food Labelling standards placing pressure on the Coeliac Society to engage a team at Monash University to conduct a study, for 3 years on uncontaminated oats (which will be finalised 2021 and results published) and food bodies like the Grains & Legumes Association, Food council and the CSIRO all seeing the need for a label change around gluten free oats
- we have proven that oats is contaminated throughout the supply chain however like any food that is labelled ‘gluten free’ especially grains grown commercially this is difficult and expensive to produce
What we know about Wheat and a Wheat Free diet
With the advent of agriculture, wheat has emerged as the most commonly eaten grain globally. Due to its unparalleled rise as a wholesome and nutritious food, wheat found a place as an ingredient in a vast majority of food products. However despite its exalted status, wheat and wheat containing foods, are a huge cause of allergies and irritation for many people across the globe. An increased prevalence of wheat allergy or wheat intolerance has created a sudden spurt in the demand of wheat free foods.
The interesting thing though, is that there is NO food standards guidelines when it comes to labelling a product ‘wheat free’ here in Australia with regards to Oats. So if you see a product which solely claims they are ‘Wheat Free’ – we don’t actually know what the gluten testing threshold is here. Does it mean it has <10ppm contamination, 20ppm contamination – there are no guidelines. So I see this as a real problem.
Do people think that Wheat Free Oats also means that it is Gluten Free Oats???? Let us know?
The difference between wheat free and gluten friendly.
Gluten is an ingredient found in many grains including wheat. In fact the gluten found in wheat is called gliadin. Some individuals, who are allergic to wheat, can eat foods which are wheat free but are made from gluten containing grains. Some such grains, which contain gluten and can be eaten as a part of wheat free diet, are rye, barley, spelt and oats. So, if oats are in fact ONLY labelled as ‘wheat free oats’ this could mean that they are cross contaminated with these other gluten containing grains.
The term ‘gluten friendly’ has been coined on menus lately to communicate that a product may have been cooked in an environment that contains gluten containing foods. Essentially, they are trying to protect themselves and only cater for those who are allergic with the ‘gluten free’ claim as it is such a small group in comparison to the larger growing ‘gluten intolerance group’.
GF Oats has decided to use the term ‘gluten friendly’ on their packaging communicating to our ‘gluten intolerance’ customers that these our oats are good to go for them. Coeliac patients are encouraged to follow the society guidelines.