Recently there have been complaints on various forums about companies that no longer claim their products are gluten-free, despite the fact that their ingredient list appears to be unchanged. It apparently happened recently with Pace and Prego products (owned by Campbell’s)**(see editorial note below). People on various forums are frustrated saying Pace and Prego products are no longer gluten-free.

Off the Gluten-Free List

Regarding Pace products, glutenfreeinsd reports a quote from Campbells, “…at this time Pace does not have any gluten-free products.” I asked this question to Campbell’s myself and didn’t get nearly as direct an answer “I’m happy to send you a list of our gluten-free products via the mail…I advise you to check the ingredient statement on each package to be certain that the product is still gluten-free.” The problem with that according to several celiac advocates online is that the ingredients actually read gluten-free so celiacs would likely choose to eat it.

Participants on the Delphi Forums site have been all over Campbell’s with regards to pulling Prego from its gluten-free list. Many say the label reads gluten-free, but when you call the company they keep reading their information over and over that Prego now contains gluten. Our question is where?

Why Do Companies Remove Gluten-Free Labeling?

I posed this and other questions to Andrea Levario of the American Celiac Disease Alliance. She offered a more level-headed response to problems similar to what’s happening with Campbell’s. “Of course, no company is required to label Gluten Free,” Levario said, “and even the yet-to-be-announced rules by the Food and Drug Administration will not mandate Gluten Free labeling. It is possible, too, that the company’s suppliers won’t verify the status of ingredients…therefore, the company…won’t say with certainly that the product is gluten-free. It’s all about liability.” Told you she was level-headed.

I asked her why companies “cover their butts” like this. She calls it “…a function of survival. If there’s no protection from lawsuits or a way to limit the liability, companies are going to use these kinds of practices.” Levario did offer some possible solutions, but the changes need to come from the top of the government food chain. “Adding more information to the food label would help the consumer. Mandatory labeling, with regular plant inspections followed by strong enforcement from the FDA has the strong potential to make things better too.” But then she added, “Those things cost money.” Yes they do. And in a tough economic time like this—what are the chances companies or the government will sock away extra money for gluten-free labeling?

There’s a reason Levario is the executive director of the ACDA. She looks at the cause with passion (she is a mom of a son with celiac disease), but tries to keep a logical and realistic spin on the issues. In talking with her I’m reminded of how life-altering having celiac disease and managing the gluten-free diet is. “Celiac disease is quite unique,” Levario said, “Its treatment and management lie almost exclusively with the patient. That’s a lot of responsibility.”

Yes it is. Which may be why many people in the celiac community and on those forums get feisty when things like this happen. We are trying to be responsible and make good decisions about the food we eat or give to our celiac children. We also want to be able to eat mainstream foods like Pace and Prego — they’re easier to find at the grocery store and good food resources for friends and grandparents when they want to cook for us. The best we can do is make sure that Campbell’s knows how it’s decision is affecting tens of thousands of people across the United States who will no longer be buying their products. By educating Campbell’s, maybe we can eventually force change — one company at a time.

** Since this post went up on 12.10.08, Campbells has clarified its gluten-free status. Link here for the updated post.

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