The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reopened the comment period for its proposal on labeling foods as "gluten-free."  The agency also is making available a safety assessment of exposure to gluten for people with celiac disease.

In 2007, the FDA proposed that gluten should be labelled at anything over 20mg per kg (20 ppm).  Foods labelled 'gluten-free' containing more than this amount would be considered misbranded.  The threshold of less than 20 ppm is similar to 'gluten-free' labeling standards used by many other countries.

Celiac disease sufferers cannot tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food.  About 1 percent of the U.S. population has the disease and nearly 18 million more have gluten-sensitivity.  Defining a tolerable threshold level for gluten presence in gluten-free foods was included as part of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004.

"Before finalizing our gluten-free definition, we want up-to-date input from affected consumers, the food industry, and others to help assure that the label strikes the right balance," said Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods. "We must take into account the need to protect individuals with celiac disease from adverse health consequences while ensuring that food manufacturers can meet the needs of consumers by producing a wide variety of gluten-free foods."

Rice is naturally gluten-free and is an important source of nutrition for people who follow gluten-free diets.  USA Rice will again submit comments to the proposed rule.  For more information see www.fda.gov.