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Gluten free certification growing

Businesses start to build markets and offer management protocols for authenticated specialty products

A new partnership in Saskatchewan will help meet growing consumer demand for organic gluten-free oats in North America.

Avena Foods in Regina and Marshall Gluten-Free Milling of Saskatoon are working together to offer oat products that are certified organic and gluten-free and produced through a certified grower network.

The companies describe it as a ground-breaking marketing move.

“Nobody else is offering the product as certified gluten free, certified organic,” said Dale Richardson of Avena.

“Our product will go out as Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) certified. It’s a much lower level of gluten.”

Avena has produced and marketed certified gluten-free rolled oats, quick flakes, steel cuts, groats and flour for eight years. It said the expansion into organic gluten-free will not affect its existing gluten-free growers and customers.

Marshall Gluten-Free Milling will handle the organic grower relationship and provide Avena Foods with certified organic and certified gluten free oats.

Mike Marshall plans to expand its grower base, which now comprises prairie growers who are certified organic and qualify for certified gluten-free.

He said there are not enough organic acres to meet market demands.

He also wants to help conventional growers transition into organics in a more financially viable way. Doing so gluten free promotes good crop rotation and is more financially sound, he added.

“Quite frankly, we want to change the industry. We would like our model to be the model that organics is used for because it’s a more sustainable rotation,” he said.

“This is a closed loop system where it’s a consistent price year in and year out. You’re compensated for your performance.”

The partnership includes agronomic, economic and environmental arrangements with producers, which includes pure seed, proper rotations, field histories, identity preservation and traceability.

Marshall said he will also develop markets for all crops in the rotation that are non-gluten.

“There’s more awareness now of people who are celiac or sensitive to gluten, but I think that is only a portion of the market interest,” said Richardson.

“I think people have continued to become interested in consuming gluten free because of the perception that it is healthy.”

Wallace Hamm, an agrologist and organic farmer who is also president of Pro Cert Organic Systems near Saskatoon, said certification will be similar to organics.

“As time progresses, within two to three years on the farm, gluten-free certification will be the norm rather than the exception,” he said.

Pro Cert, which already certifies organic farms, has created gluten-free certification protocols that are similar to those in place for organic operations, which includes annual inspections and accurate harvest samples and follows the steps of separation, isolation, sanitation and certification.

He said failure to clean bins, augers, trucks and combines can lead to gluten being found in any crop.

“(Certification) guarantees that products leaving the farm have been isolated from glutenous products,” said Hamm.

“The demand for quality gluten free — that’s really what is pushing it — and making sure celiacs are looked after. The future of gluten free is real and growing.”

He said on-farm certification will reduce risks for processors and consumers.

Markets for products made without wheat are growing, he said, citing the one percent of the North American population diagnosed with celiac disease, which causes intestinal damage.

For many, that means switching to a gluten-free diet for the entire family to avoid making special meals.

In addition, Hamm said there are markets for those with wheat sensitivities that elicit allergic reactions.

Thirty farmers are already certified in Saskatchewan, which he expects to triple in the coming year.

“Plants love this, it makes risks they have with hot spots practically zero,” said Hamm, who noted processors already check incoming loads.

“It nullifies the possibility of celiac people getting a batch of products with a high gluten content and suing them,” he said.

“As processors realize there is a better way, they will demand on-farm certification.”

He said farms can be certified as both organic and gluten free, but most will be gluten free and farmed conventionally. The annual cost for an average farm for certification would be $800 to $1,000, but producers could expect to see a $2 per bushel premium when selling these crops.

Marshall estimated about 80 producers from Alberta and Saskatchewan would currently qualify for gluten-free certification.

“If consumers have the choice for gluten free and organic, the choice will be for double certified,” he said.

Marshall said organic is a choice for consumers, but gluten free is not.

“The only relief for celiacs is a gluten free diet,” he said.

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