Why can’t we grow Oats in Australia that tests nil gluten?

02/06/2020

Why can't we grow oats in Australia that tests nil to gluten?

GF Oats Australia have been importing uncontaminated oats that is tested nil gluten into Australia since 2009. We imported 1 pallet or 750kg of pre-packaged oats from GF Harvest who are a family of Coeliac wanting to find a solution to the GMO corn, soy and high laden sugar products they were consuming in their diet. Read our story here. Today we are importing over 100 tonnes of oats meeting the needs of many who, like our family, follow special dietary requirements, and are eager to introduce a power-food like oats, safely into their daily diet.

Oats has been a staple in many people’s diets over the centuries.  Usually consumed at breakfast because of the great fibre content, easy preparation, great flavour, have hot or cold oats and you can add a variety of other ingredients to enhance nutrition. While oats are a healthy food for most people, for others it is a tricky one. Studies show that oats are naturally free from gluten contamination, they are pre-dominantly contaminated throughout the supply chain.

My father was a grain farmer in Central Queensland, and he grew a variety of crops, wheat, oats, barley to name a few. We used the same harvesters, storage bins & trucks during the processing of the grains. When the grains get to mills for processing, once again they generally process all sorts of grains throughout their plants. This is where the contamination comes from.

Here is Australia, we do have many oat farmers, yes, but the main problem is accessing a mill that can steam and roll the oats in a dedicated facility, ensuring that the oats is uncontaminated from the gluten found in other gluten grains.

There are two categories of foods that contain gluten:

  1. Grains that naturally have it (i.e. wheat, barley, and rye), plus anything derived from those grains that’s not specifically processed to remove the gluten (some food in Europe is sold with gluten-free wheat starch, for instance, which has the gluten taken out)
  2. Foods that shouldn’t have gluten but end up contaminated at some point in their production.

Many grains and legumes including oats fall into the second category.

Over the years we have reached out to farmers especially here in the Darling Downs where many crops are grown, some of the challenges encountered are outlined below.

Demand

What comes first the chicken of the egg?  You need to create a demand for a product before you can approach farmers requesting, they invest time and money into growing a commodity. They need to know that they can access an adequate return on this investment. Many farmers can produce hundreds of tonnes of grain from one farm, so if they are dedicating their farm to only oats to reduce cross contamination, they need to sell all of it.

Contamination

Our farmers in the USA have dedicated fields with exclusion zones around them. During the growing season they employ teams from the local university to come and walk the fields at various times to hand pick out any plants that cause possible contamination issues during harvesting and processing. Pure, uncontaminated oats may test to nil gluten, but gluten is present in many packaged oat products due to the high prevalence of cross-contamination both in the field and in the processing facility. Often times, oats are grown and processed alongside gluten-rich foods such as barley, wheat and rye, increasing the risk of cross-contamination.

Dedicated Equipment

Investments need to be made in machinery, storage bins and harvesters that are dedicated to processing only oats. The costs of this run into millions. To attract investors to this project, once again we need demand.

Processing Plant

Finally, the dedicated steaming and rolling facility to ensure that consumers are able to access a product that tests to nil gluten meeting Australian gluten-free labeling requirements, even though we are can’t label any oats gluten-free in Australia. Please refer to the FANAZ labeling guidelines around oats here.

It is our vision to have oats onto the shelves here in Australia that tests to nil gluten and meets Australian food labeling standards. We are close to this happening, but we are cautiously moving forward, ensuring that all our compliance is in order and that the Australian consumer sourcing oats that test to nil gluten are sourcing “Oats they can Trust”.

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