Cheerios to drop gluten-free label in Canada

General Mills says it is changing the label on the box, but the cereal itself still meets the gluten-free criteria.  |  File photo

Breakfast cereal maker General Mills has confirmed that it will voluntarily remove “gluten-free” labels from Cheerios products effective Jan. 1.

The company announced the labels will be removed on all Cheerios products sold in Canada until Canadian regulators develop consistent testing protocols that provide reasonable assurance that all products containing gluten-free labels are in fact, gluten free.

“Each serving of Cheerios products in Canada are gluten-free, as defined by the current regulatory standard of containing less than 20 (parts per million) of gluten,” General Mills said in a statement provided to The Western Producer.

However, the company said General Mills Canada has voluntarily removed the gluten-free label until Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency publish a consistent testing protocol for products containing oats.

It said the product is not changing, just the label on the box.

General Mills’ decision stems in part from concerns raised by the Canadian Celiac Association.

In 2016, the celiac association objected to Cheerios products carrying the gluten-free claim and recommended that people with celiac disease refrain from consuming the cereal.

“We are delighted to hear the claim will be removed voluntarily from the packages,” said Melissa Secord, executive director of the celiac association.

“We support the General Mills decision to make this voluntary move. Based on the advice of the members of our Professional Advisory Council (PAC) and other professionals working in the field, we believe that there is not adequate evidence to support the current gluten-free claim.”

Currently, products that claim to be gluten free must contain less than 20 p.p.m. of gluten.

General Mills maintains that its products meet that threshold.

“We test finished product on every date of production at each one of our production facilities that make gluten-free Cheerios,” the company told The Western Producer.

Cheerios packaging in the United States will continue to carry the gluten-free claim.

Sue Newell, manager of education and special products at the celiac association, said its representatives are aware of the challenges involved in assuring that products are gluten-free.

She said General Mills has declined to share details of its testing procedures.

“Our goal here is not to prevent people from eating Cheerios,” Newell said. “Our goal is to make sure they are safe.”

Newell said other companies that produce oat-based food products, including Avena Foods and Quaker Oats, have adopted measures aimed at assuring the purity of their products, including in-field purity assessments and production practices that are verified by third-party sources.

The celiac association is also involved in setting up testing practices and procedures approved by AOAC International, a scientific association that publishes standardized, analysis methods de-signed to increase confidence in chemical and biological test results.

The organization has also re-ceived a grant from Agriculture Canada to examine the scope of gluten contained in oats, pulses and other non-gluten grain crops grown in Canada.

One of the project’s objectives is to determine at what point in the production and supply chain contamination is most likely to occur and recommend actions to minimize contamination risks.

The CCA project is scheduled to be completed next March.

Celiac disease is a medical condition in which the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged by gluten, which results in the body’s inability to absorb protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

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