Goodbye, NGCI

Eighteen months after the last change in allergen food labelling, another comes into force on 20th July 2016 – although its effects will be more subtle. Alex Gazzola explains.

The last major change to labelling legislation which affected those on restricted diets took place on 13th December 2014, when the EU Food Information for Consumers (EU FIC) Regulation No. 1169/2011 came into full effect. It required manufacturers to highlight any presence of the 14 major food allergens within the list of ingredients of their products, and stop using ‘contains’ allergen boxes, thus keeping allergen information confined solely to the ingredients.

Prior to that came EU Regulation No. 41/2009, fully effective from 1st January 2012, concerning the composition and labelling of gluten-free and ‘very low gluten’ foods, requiring such foods to contain less than 20 parts per million (20ppm) and between 20ppm and 100ppm, respectively. (See our previous article here.)

Having two separate legislations concerning the presence and absence / reduced levels of gluten has never been an ideal scenario, and legislative changes are now coming into effect to reconcile this anomaly, with several consequences.

EU Regulation No. 41/2009 is being repealed on 20th July 2016, with most of its legislation essentially being ‘relocated’ to EU FIC 1169/2011 under which all rules relating to gluten will sit, along with a new law, Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No. 828/2014, on the requirements for the provision of information to consumers on the absence or reduced presence of gluten in food.

What are the important changes?

Regulations concerning use of the terms ‘gluten free’ or ‘very low gluten’ remain the same.

However, those are now the only two terms which can “provide information to consumers on the absence or reduced presence of gluten in food”. No other term is permitted.

This means ‘no gluten-containing ingredients’ (NGCI) will no longer be permitted from 20th July.

Two additional terms, which were permitted before, namely “suitable for people intolerant to gluten” and “suitable for coeliacs” may still be used, but two other expressions are additionally permitted under certain circumstances. The terms, which some manufacturers (eg Schar) have already adopted, are:

a/ “specifically formulated for people intolerant to gluten”, or
b/ “specifically formulated for coeliacs”

And the circumstances are when the food has been specially produced, prepared or processed to:

a/ reduce the gluten content of one or more gluten-containing ingredients, or
b/ substitute the gluten-containing ingredients with other ingredients naturally free of gluten.

In other words, products which are naturally free from gluten cannot carry these expressions.

According to blogger Peter Nowee (The Serious Celiac), this distinction was made at the request of the Italian coeliac association (AIC) and a free-from food industry representative, on the basis that it would be helpful for the purposes of distributing reimbursements to coeliacs for the cost of dietetic foods.

Some concern has been expressed that ‘very low gluten’ foods – which should only be consumed in moderation – may carry the expression “specifically formulated for coeliacs”, potentially giving those with CD a ‘green light’ to consume them in greater quantities than advisable. ‘Very low gluten’ foods are only common on continental Europe, and dietitians there often recommend coeliac patients should mostly avoid them, as very sensitive ones may react.

More positively, the additional terms may help consumers distinguish between ordinary, incidentally gluten-free products, and products safely made for them.

What else is changing?

Reduced-gluten foods have, until now, been considered so-called PARNUTS – foods for particular nutritional uses – and were incorporated within Directive 2009/39/EC for such foods, on the basis of being “dietary foods for special medical purposes”. As a consequence of the changes, this will no longer be the case, and they will not be seen as ‘dietetic’ foods – raising a possible concern that this ‘demoted’ status may further undermine efforts to maintain their availability via NHS prescriptions.

The PARNUTS directive is being replaced by yet another new regulation – 609/2013 on Food for Specific Groups (FSG) – which covers such products as diet replacement products for weight control and food for sports people. They also include infant and follow-on formulas, which may no longer carry the terms ‘gluten free’ and ‘very low gluten’, given that such products must, according to a previous, older EU Directive (2006/141/EC), be gluten free by law.

What else is not changing?

There is no change to precautionary allergy labelling – ‘may contain traces of’, etc – which remains unregulated.

For a detailed run down on how this will affect food service businesses see the Food Allergy Aware site here.

Further Reading
The Serious Celiac – fascinating blog and comments on the possible problems with the new legislative changes

Coeliac UK – Changes to European Legislation on Gluten-Free Labelling


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