I have had a terrible week. As many of you know, I have a facebook page called The Coeliac Hub that I use to raise awareness and share information about gluten related disorders. My blog posts are shared on that page.
My first issue started when I decided to start a campaign to make gluten free pizzas free from gluten here in Malta. Although most were thankful, the feedback I received from restaurants could have been more detailed. But I know that they all read the guidelines and hope that some change will be made for the better to safeguard our health. However, the response I got from members of the gluten free community was a little surprising. I received a few private messages and other comments to the effect that I should be grateful that so many restaurants are willing to cater for us, and that I should not undermine this by placing unrealistic demands on restaurants. Some messages were worded more nicely than others. Shocked? I was.
Then just yesterday, I was yet again disappointed by many members of the gluten free community here in Malta. Here is a brief recount of the story.
A company recently started selling a huge amount of packaged products labelled as gluten free and bearing the crossed grain symbol. For those of you who do not know what the crossed grain symbol is, it is a a registered trademark at a national and European level, as well as in the United States. Coeliac UK owns the worldwide copyright for the symbol. It can only be used with a licence, and certain criteria must be met to obtain this locence. Products have to be tested in an independent, accredited lab to be either gluten free (< 20ppm of gluten) or to contain very low gluten (<100ppm of gluten). Unfortunately, although these products may (or may not) have been gluten free, they had never been tested for ppm of gluten. Hence, the gluten free label should never have been used. They also had no licence to use the crossed grain symbol. A better option would have been to state that the products contain ‘No gluten containing ingredients’ which means that although ingredients are gluten free, and efforts have been made to minimise cross contamination, the product is not labelled as gluten free due to lack of testing. This label is adopted my many companies including Thorntons chocolates here in Europe. It is then up to the consumer whether to buy these products or not. The company’s attention was brought to the issue, and although the crossed grain symbol was removed, they continued to use the ‘gluten free’ label’.
For people with coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity the ‘gluten free’ label is almost sacred- it should be immune to question or criticism. A gluten free label shows us that we can consume a product safely because it has been tested to have a very low level of gluten that most people with coeliac disease can tolerate. In Europe and the US this is 20ppm of gluten. To use the label irresponsibly is a huge offence in my book.
The appropriate authorities got to know about this issue and the products were recalled for a very short time until they were tested. They were thankfully found to be gluten free according to the manufacturer. The crossed grain symbol was removed from their products.
Happy ending? Yes- it is wonderful that the products are gluten free actually.
However, I cannot help being dismayed by the response from the manufacturer in question as well as from people with coeliac disease themselves. Rather than offering an apology for misusing the gluten free label and crossed grain symbol, they proceeded to publicly express their anger that people were out to harm their buisness by bringing the issue to the attention of authorities. They also claimed that various damaging statements were written about them. If there were, I never read them. However, what worried me is the response they got from fellow members of the gluten free community. There were responses that their products have always tasted wonderful (what has that got to do with anything?), that they have a Maltese product and that we should support them (Maltese, Italian, Australian- makes no difference- the issue is the gluten free label), and many other comments praising the company and thanking them. The company also claimed that many people who approached them were disgusted by the actions of people or groups who asked for their products to be tested.
Where is our pride? Do we even know how important these issues are? EU legislation as well as similar legislations worldwide have been put into effect to protect us from getting ill. On the other hand, if a restaurant claims to serve gluten free food but has no knowledge about cross contamination issues and what gluten is, why should we be thankful?
Lets get our head out of the sand. Until we do, there will be no progress.
For more information about the use of the crossed grain symbol please refer to Coeliac UK’s webpage by clicking here.