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Labeling for Gluten Grain-Containing Alcoholic Beverages

U.S. Rules Prohibit 'Gluten-Free' Claim for Barley-Based Drinks

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Updated August 05, 2013

Labeling for Gluten Grain-Containing Alcoholic Beverages
Getty Images/Martin Mistretta

Alcoholic beverages that are made from gluten-containing materials — such as beer made from barley — cannot be labeled gluten-free even if they were processed to remove most or all of the gluten, according to agency responsible for regulating such beverages in the U.S.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau ruling, issued in May 2012, was responding to gluten-free label claims from beer manufacturers who use a proprietary process to "de-gluten" the product.

At least one of these beers — Estrella Damm Daura — says it has tested its product and that it comes in at 6 parts per million, well below the generally accepted "gluten-free" standard of less than 20 parts per million. Another such product, Omission beer, says a proprietary process eliminates the vast majority of gluten in the beer, making the final product come in well below the 20ppm standard.

However, bureau officials said they were concerned about gluten in processed and distilled beverages that can't be detected using available testing methods.

Read more on the safety of gluten-based alcoholic beverages:

De-Glutened Beer Can't Make A Gluten-Free Claim

The problem with "de-glutened" products, say bureau officials, is that current gluten testing methods find it difficult to accurately measure the gluten content of fermented products such as beer. That makes any testing unreliable, and potentially could leave undetected gluten that could harm the health of people with celiac disease.

Instead of making a "gluten-free" claim, these "de-glutened" beverages can be labeled with a statement that says they've been processed to remove gluten, but may still contain some gluten, the bureau says.

Aside from beer, products that potentially could be affected by these rules include beer alternatives that contain malt, whiskey (typically made from barley) and vodka (frequently made from wheat and sometimes made from rye). I have seen gluten-free claims for some malt beverages, but I haven't seen any gluten-grain-based distilled spirits specifically claiming gluten-free status.

The bureau allows "gluten-free" claims on products made from ingredients that don't contain gluten, such as wine or vodka made from potatoes or grapes. However, the regulations point out the difficulty in keeping even naturally gluten-free products safe: in order to label something "gluten-free," the manufacturer must take adequate steps to prevent gluten cross-contamination and also not use any additives, yeast or storage materials that contain gluten. (Some wines are at risk for these issues, although the gluten resulting in the final product is likely well below 20 parts per million — learn more in Is Wine Gluten-Free?)

Final FDA Rules Could Change Alcohol Rules

With the rise in interest in the gluten-free diet, the bureau says it's getting frequent inquiries from the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages who wish to use "gluten-free" on their labels.

However, bureau officials clearly aren't comfortable in allowing such claims, even if the manufacturers produce test results showing their products contain low levels of detectable gluten.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau noted that the FDA is due to promulgate final regulations defining "gluten-free" in 2012, and said it might revisit the issue at that point to see if its own gluten labeling policy should be revised. In the meantime, the bureau considers its policy to be "interim."

Source:

Department of the Treasury, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Interim Policy on Gluten Content Statements in the Labeling and Advertising of Wines, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages. May 24, 2012.

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