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Why Can’t Oats be Labelled as Gluten Free in Australia?

One of our most frequently asked questions is “Are our oats gluten free?”

I have responded to this popular question time and time again, however it is time to revisit and clear it up with some updated facts that even Coeliacs can get themselves in knots about. Don’t get me wrong – I sympathise for those who have Coeliac disease and know personally how serious and deadly the disease is, as my own family members have perished from Coeliac disease. I know personally how serious this disease can be and I am sick and tired of the constant misinformation that is being spread by fearmongering nitwits who troll those (with horrible language I won’t repeat on here) who say they are enjoying oats in their life on forums and our Facebook page.

So, without further ado, let’s strap in, dig into the facts and friction of oats that causes so much controversy and distress for the “trolls”. 

Can I first start by saying that it is NOT our intention here at GF Oats to cause anyone distress – goodness knows there is a lot of other things going on in the world to be distressed about? However, we aim to provide the Australian consumer, who demand our steamed rolled oats, that is free from the contamination from wheat, rye, or barley OR as certified in other countries ‘Gluten Free Oats’. We are currently importing and distributing throughout Australia and NZ – selling in excess of more than 200 tonnes of oats, so there is a market for people who need and want to enjoy the health benefits of a gluten-free diet and our beautiful product.

Do you want to understand what a Gluten Free label means? #bloodyoatsyoudo

Did you know that our food labelling laws are strictly governed by a long list of standards set by the Food Standards Australia & New Zealand? Here in the manufacturing game, we nickname them (FSANZ). In this document there is a section outlining the details around labelling a product gluten free. This is Standard 1.2.8 Clause 16. This clause states that for a food to be labelled ‘Gluten Free’, it has to meet the testing of nil gluten detected or <5ppm gluten detected which effectively equals ZERO detected gluten.

Cool, easy, no probs…..well not really, here comes the sub-clauses.

So further down below in those sub-clauses on there is a section referring to oats.

It says that no product that contains oats in Australia can be labelled as gluten-free oats. Now an interesting fact, this sub-clause was added in after a study published around 2006 that was conducted on contaminated oats. Yep, they did the study on oats that were contaminated with wheat, rye and barley. You see nobody knew that the oats were contaminated throughout the supply chain, they just knew that when they were putting the oats through the gluten testing machines, they were getting a gluten reading. So, they called it a day and concluded that oats contain gluten.

Fast forward to around 2017, and all of a sudden, we see a little * appear on our gluten-free tests that we do with every load of oats we bring into our supply chain. We publish these results on our website by the way, under our Compliance Page. When we inquired about this * we were informed that NATA – National Australian Testing Authority – had now approved the gluten-free test on oats. BOOM! MIC-DROP

Shortly after, a new amendment to the FSANZ sub-clause around oats was added. Any oats that showed <5ppm or nil gluten detected, could now be labelled as ‘Low Gluten’. This sounded great, but we did feel people would be confused about a ‘Low Gluten” claim, so we trialled it for 12 months, and yep, it caused more confusion that ever for our customers. So, based on our surveys we do regularly, we found that our customers knew that if they were Coeliac that they would only eat products that were labelled ‘Gluten-Free’, which is very reasonably what the societies around Australia would market and promote. At the same time, we started to see the term ‘Gluten Friendly’ being used throughout the hospitality predominately as well as Wheat Free, which we also used as one of our benefits but NOT the main one.

I have done a full blog on what the difference is between Wheat Free and Gluten Free and what Gluten Friendly Labelling Means, so you can check that out. However, we chose to use ‘Gluten Friendly’ as a way to describe the key benefit of our oats. There are no guidelines around what the terms “Gluten Friendly and Wheat Free” actually mean in the Food Standards industry. Our pure oats are definitely MORE than Wheat Free Oats as they test nil to gluten and wheat-free does NOT mean that and since we can’t call them Gluten-Free Oats we are in between a rock and a hard place in communicating to our customers. The best that we can do is call them Gluten Friendly Oats.

What does the Acronym ‘GF’ Stand for?

Hang on to your horses’ folks, because ‘GF’ cannot be trademarked and can mean soooo many things. The gluten-free community seems to have claimed the acronym as their very own and have told me they have started to even train their children to only eat or purchase foods with ‘GF’ on them. Sorry folks, it’s just not that simple. “GF” is on menus in restaurants but if you are allergic you need to always do your due diligence and double check with the venue to ensure that they aren’t using it as a buzzword. Cafés and restaurants have a lot of allergies and food intolerances that they try and cater for; gluten-free is only one of them. We at GF Oats headquarters use ‘GF’ which is the shortened version of our name Gloriously Free Oats. Remember we aren’t allowed to call them ‘Gluten Free Oats’, so we have worked alongside QLD Health Department over the years to find a name that legally represents and aligns with our brand benefits without misleading our consumers.

You may or may not be aware at this point that oats are naturally gluten-free and like many grains that are naturally gluten-free they are prone to being contaminated throughout the supply chain. The concern with oats is not just the contamination issue, but that each grain has a protein strain and in oats, it is called Avenin. This protein can cause a few Coeliac patients, (for more information see this study), a reaction that is similar to a gluten reaction – stomach pain, diarrhoea, constipation and vomiting just to name a few. However, that means that most can potentially eat gluten free oats. Studies also showed recently that as long as the patient tested themselves with uncontaminated oats, then no damage was done. Please, if you are a Coeliac we strongly encourage you to follow the societies guidelines and participate in an oat study – for more information, contact your GP.

Compliance

Our oats growers both overseas and here in Australia are one of a handful of companies that are members of the Pure Oats Protocol program. They are grown in dedicated zones to minimise cross-contamination, use only dedicated machinery and are processed in gluten-free organic certified facilities.  Not all oats are the same. In the US, UK and Europe oats are labelled gluten free oats and are certified safe for Coeliacs to consume if they contain less than 20 milligrams of gluten per kilogram or 20ppm*.  Our oats test to <3ppm or nil gluten detected since we started in 2009. If you would like more information, please see our Compliance Page.

International Standards vs Australian Standards

So once again, in Australia we are unable to call any oats gluten-free oats at the moment. However, the wheels are in motion to move the Australian standards towards international standards so it is less confusing for consumers. You only have to do a google for ‘gluten-free oats’ and you will get thousands of references to gluten free oats. On page 1 is the article from HealthLine called ‘Are Oats Gluten-Free” where they have dozens of references to completed studies and state:

Pure oats are gluten-free and safe for most people with gluten intolerance.

However, oats are often contaminated with gluten because they may be processed in the same facilities as gluten-containing grains like wheat, rye, and barley.

Studies show that most people with celiac disease or wheat allergy can eat 2–3.5 ounces (50–100 grams) of pure oats per day without adverse effects (Please see  our compilation of trusted sources – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

One 8-year study in 106 people with coeliac disease revealed that half of them ate oats daily — and none experienced negative effects (6, 7).

Additionally, some countries recommend including oats in a gluten-free diet. A few studies note that people with celiac disease living in these countries had better intestinal healing than people in countries that did not (8, 9).

Pure, uncontaminated oats are also safe for people who have a wheat allergy.

In the UK, Europe & USA this product is labelled Gluten-Free oats; however, in Australia this is not the case, even though we have been trying since 2009. Oats contain Avenin (not Gluten) which is safe for approximately 95% of people with Coeliac Disease. Oats can provide such a great source of nutrition compared to the GMO corn, soy and sugar-laden products currently available and are promoted to the gluten-free community.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (the AFGC) has asked FSANZ that Australian food with up to 20 milligrams per kilogram of gluten, be labelled gluten-free, bringing us one step further to being in line with many international food standards.

Also, under pressure from the move from these and other food bodies; the Coeliac Society commenced a 3 year study starting in 2018 on oats. The Australian study is conducted by Professor Jason Tye-Din (Head of the Coeliac Research Lab at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research of The University of Melbourne). This study should be completed mid-year (as at April 2021) and published soon after. At that time the study can be submitted to FSANZ for review and discussion with regards to the labelling laws going the next step and certifying uncontaminated oats as gluten-free oats. 

Labelling on our product range:

*Gluten Friendly – or low gluten

*Wheat Free

*Uncontaminated Steamed Rolled Oats

*GMO Corn and Soy Free

*Refined Sugar Free

*Vegan

*Dairy Free

*Glyphosate Free

My message to all Coeliac Patients:

Please note that changes are on the horizon around the labelling of gluten-free oats. Be it gluten-free oats or anything, it is very confusing to have an ingredient labelled differently here in Australia and NZ. Although there are these inconsistencies, it does not mean that if you eat our oats you will get cancer as many of you who message me daily suggest. 

Please take the time out to review the reference studies we have shared with you of the oat studies conducted around the world, the data changes all the time as more evidence is gathered. We look forward to the findings which look very positive to date from Professor Tye-Din and his research team. And, let’s just be kind and respectful to each other. I am as I said above not trying to hurt anyone but run a viable business and provide a much-needed service. If I don’t do this some other cowboy who cuts corners will. If you are unsure about oats in your diet please don’t eat it and instead seek medical support.

According to the University of Chicago Coeliac Disease Centre, the most sensitive coeliacs have their disease activated with just 10mg of gluten in a day’s diet. At 100mg per day, all coeliacs are activated. To reference this in perspective a gluten-free food that has less than 20ppm (20mg per kilogram) of gluten would require you to eat 2 pounds (907g) of it in one day to reach a significant amount of gluten in your system to trigger the disease.

If, having been presented with all the facts, you’d like to try our products, we have a fabulous little Starter Pack which includes samples of our oats to get you started on your GF Oats journey.

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