The mystery of gluten-free oats may finally be solved
- The Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) and AACC International have published a standardized definition for oats to help produce foods that are gluten-free.
- Oat processors and the industry created the uniform definition to build consumer confidence and provide transparency to food manufactures and gluten-free consumers.
- Purity protocol covers the entire supply chain from the farm to the finished product. It includes requirements for seed stock purity, and criteria for harvesting, transport, storage, processing and manufacturing.
Oats are naturally gluten-free, but are commonly contaminated with small amounts of gluten-containing grains during farming, processing and storage. According to the Gluten Intolerance Group, the vast majority of celiac consumers can safely eat oats, but an agreed purity protocol provides reassurance for the most sensitive consumers that producers have taken steps to ensure they are gluten-free.
The FDA allows manufacturers to label foods as "gluten-free" if they contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. The Gluten Free Watchdog, an organization that provides gluten-free testing data to the general public, supports a purity protocol as the most effective way to ensure oats do not contain gluten. Some manufacturers instead use mechanical or optical processing of cheaper "regular" oats for their gluten-free products.
It is a lucrative and growing market. Sales of gluten-free products continue to rise, with the market expected to reach $4.89 billion by 2021, compared to $2.84 billion in 2014, according to a report last year from Transparency Market Research. About three million people in the United States suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder with symptoms triggered by consumption of gluten, the protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley and spelt.
Food manufactures ranging from PepsiCo's Quaker division and Snyder's-Lance to General Mills' cereal brands have introduced or reformulated hundreds of products including cookie mixes, cereal, crackers and muffins to be gluten-free or offer gluten-free varieties. Skeptics have warned gluten-free foods are nothing more than a fad, with some grocery stores even noting a drop-off in demand for these products. Still, with companies desperate for new avenues of growth, they would be wise to invest in the burgeoning industry even if it's white-hot growth eventually cools.