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FDA to Regulate ‘Gluten-Free’ Label Claims

Blend Images/Dave and Les Jacobs(WASHINGTON) -- The gluten-free aisle has become a common sight in grocery stores around the country. Now the companies who make the foods on these aisles will have to prove that their products are as gluten-free as they claim. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday introduced stricter regulations on labeling food sans gluten.

Until now, there has been no way for consumers to know what gluten-free actually means. That all changed Friday with the FDA's new rule that says, from now on, there will be a standard definition for what foods qualify as gluten-free. By this time next year, only products with less than 20 parts per million of gluten will be allowed to carry the label.

The FDA says the new rule will not only apply to foods label "gluten-free," but it will also apply to products bearing the words "no gluten," "free of gluten" and "without gluten."

"We encourage the food industry to come into compliance with the new definition as soon as possible and help us make it as easy as possible for people with celiac disease to identify food that meet the federal definition of 'gluten-free,'" Michael Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in a statement.

Gluten refers to proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye, barley and cross-bred hybrids of these grains, the FDA says. For up to 3 million Americans with celiac disease, eating gluten can lead to terrible digestive symptoms. But they're not the only ones buying gluten-free foods. These products have become synonymous with a healthy diet, making gluten-free a $4.2 billion industry.

Of course, unless you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, there is no proven reason to avoid gluten.  But for those who do need to go gluten-free, the new FDA rule is an important step in protecting their health.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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