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Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Confusing Celiac Sprue Association Endorsement of Omission Beer
Yesterday on the Omission Beer Facebook page, I saw this picture announcing Omission Beer is now endorsed by the Celiac Sprue Association (CSA): 

Note to readers: I was linking to a photo on the Omission Facebook page.
It looks like they took their post down! 
There was also a press release that made the newswires directly from the Celiac Sprue Association announcing their endorsement of Omission Beer.

I struggle tremendously with this endorsement. WHY? Omission Beer is made from gluten. PERIOD. 

From the Omission website:
According to federal guidelines, we aren’t legally allowed to claim that Omission beer is gluten-free outside of Oregon because the beer is brewed with malted barley. While the FDA proposed to define the term “gluten-free,” that definition has not been formally adopted by the organization.

Part of the definition proposed in 2007, and again in 2011, states that a product may not be labeled as gluten-free if it contains “an ingredient that is derived from a prohibited grain that has been processed to remove gluten, if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food.”

While Omission beer does contain barley, one of the “prohibited grains” in this definition, all batches are tested by an independent lab using the R5 Competitive ELISA to ensure that gluten levels meet our standards.  Although scientific evidence supports the testing, the evidence is not conclusive.  All Omission beer test results can be viewed at:
If you are going by the information from their own website, Omission Beer isn't allowed to be labeled gluten-free. 

In August 2013, the FDA passed new labeling legislation for gluten-free food that says:
"In addition to limiting the unavoidable presence of gluten to less than 20 ppm, FDA will allow manufacturers to label a food "gluten-free" if the food does not contain any of the following: 
  • an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains 
  • an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten 
  • an ingredient derived from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten"
This means that technically under the new FDA labeling law Omission can be labeled gluten-free because the ingredient (barley) is processed to remove the gluten to less than 20 parts per million.

BUT... The FDA law does NOT apply to malted beverages and beer is a malted beverage.

According to the FDA website:
"The final rule applies to all FDA-regulated foods, including dietary supplements. The rule excludes those foods whose labeling is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Generally, USDA regulates the labeling of meats, poultry, and certain egg products (FDA regulates the labeling of shell eggs). TTB regulates the labeling of most alcoholic beverages, including all distilled spirits, wines that contain 7 percent or more alcohol by volume, and malted beverages that are made with both malted barley and hops."
My next stop was the TTB website. The TTB issued a statement on August 22, 2013 that says:
"We are currently reviewing our policy on gluten content statements in the labeling and
advertising of wines, distilled spirits, and malt beverages in light of the recent U.S. Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) final rule on the use of the term "gluten‐free" for products under
FDA’s labeling jurisdiction.    
While we are reviewing this, we would like to remind industry members that TTB Ruling 2012‐2, Interim Policy on Gluten Content Statements in the Labeling and Advertising of Wines, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages, is still in force for alcohol beverage products that are subject to TTB’s labeling regulations under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act."
The ruling from 2012
"TTB will allow use of the statement “Processed or Treated or Crafted to remove gluten ,” together with a qualifying statement to inform consumers that: (1) the product was made from a grain that contains gluten; (2) there is currently no valid test to verify the gluten content of fermented products; and (3) the finished product may contain gluten. Because the current tests used to measure the gluten content of fermented products have not been scientifically validated, such statements may not include any reference to the level of gluten in the product. TTB believes that the qualifying statement is necessary to avoid misleading consumers about the gluten content of these products because of the serious health consequences associated with the consumption of gluten by individuals with celiac disease."
The very last sentence of this paragraph is what makes the Celiac Sprue Association endorsement of Omission Beer so troubling to me. The TTB, the governing body that can label this beer gluten-free for not, states they do not want consumers with celiac disease to be mislead by malted beverages crafted to remove gluten. As of today, Omission Beer cannot put the words "gluten-free" on their labels yet the oldest national celiac association in the country is putting their stamp of approval and logo on the Omission Beer bottles. It just doesn't makes sense to me! All of the facts show that legally this product is not gluten-free. The Celiac Sprue Association is misleading the Celiac community.

The CSA website says:
CSA Recognition Seal products are tested using the most sensitive ELISA test presently available in the United States. Validation of "free of wheat, barley, rye and common oats" in tests with a lower limit of quantification of 5 parts per million. Company submit the analysis of ingredients and manufacturing procedures (HACCP) to assure the products meet the requirements for the CSA Recognition Seal.
The most recent Omission testing of their Pale Ale from November 4, 2013 has the beer testing at less than 10ppm and not at the standards that the CSA claim they test (less than 5 ppm) to on their website. The CSA contradicts its own requirement #4:
"CSA-recognition seal definition: Requirement #4—Ingredients “specially processed to remove gluten”—(e.g. food starch, wheat starch, distilled alcohols and vinegars from WBRO grain sources): Not allowed—with present available commercial methodology the extent or consistency of the processes is not measurable. "

I personally think the Celiac Sprue Association made a HUGE mistake endorsing Omission Beer. As of today, Omission Beer cannot legally be labeled "gluten-free" under the current TTB laws. Period. Additionally, if you look at all of the definitions of "gluten-free" on the Celiac Sprue Association website, Omission Beer does not meet those requirements. I have nothing personal against Omission Beer but I now question the judgement of the Celiac Sprue Association with their endorsement of this product that cannot legally be labeled gluten-free. I will also now question all  all future endorsements that come from the Celiac Sprue Association.

Celiac Sprue Association, you have contradicted your own definitions of gluten-free by endorsing a product derived from gluten. What made you do it?  Please rethink this endorsement or update your website immediately to reflect that you now support products that are made from gluten. 

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Blogger The Celiac Hubby said...

excellent analysis. i'm quite shocked how csa contradicted themselves. though similarly the nfca did this w dominos only to later take back the endorsement after countless people emailed them.

Anonymous Peter Olins, PhD said...

Well said, Erin!

A few months ago we made a request of the brewer to review the specific analytical data relating to this product, but received no response. We have now made the same request of the CSA, and will gladly post our scientific assessment if we are given access to the information.

I think that part of the problem may be that the Executive Director of CSA made this announcement, but there was no quote from their scientific advisory board explaining how they arrived at this decision. Sadly, the secrecy surrounding this issue will inevitably lead to the speculation that there is something to hide.

Of course, what really matters is for these data to be subjected to peer-review in a scientific journal, so that the whole world can make up its mind.

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