The Food and Drug Administration is clearly defining what qualifies for a gluten-free label. Under the new FDA rule, announced Friday, "gluten-free" food products must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.
Products labeled and sold as gluten-free still won't have to be technically free of wheat, barley, rye and derivatives of gluten-containing grains. The 20 parts per million threshold is an amount recognized by the medical community as low enough to be safe for people with celiac disease.
The definition ends an essentially unregulated period of gluten-free marketing, during which manufacturers were able to use the label at their own discretion. Manufacturers will have one year to make their labels and claims compliant with the FDA definition.
WHAT IS CELIAC DISEASE?
People who live with celiac disease need to avoid gluten, which triggers a toxic response in the small intestine. Over time, the reaction to gluten produces inflammation that damages the intestinal lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients.
Celiac disease affects up to three million Americans. Celiac is a diagnosed illness that is more severe than gluten sensitivity, which some people self-diagnose.
WHAT TOOK SO LONG?
Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods, said the gluten-free definition was originally proposed during the George W. Bush administration, but the rule change was delayed because the agency was evaluating whether standard was correct.
"We wanted to do a careful scientific assessment of the data and the range of sensitivities," Taylor said.
Americans spent more than $4 billion on gluten-free foods last year, according to the American Celiac Disease Alliance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report