This week the big gluten free news is about the updated Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) policy and how gluten free labeling affects alcohol products under its jurisdiction. There are some finer details you should know about how the policy may or may not affect us in the gluten free world. (Click here to see original report dated 2/13/14)
I talked with Tom Hogue, Director of Congressional and Public Affairs of the TTB. One of the first items of business for me, I asked for clarification on what kind of alcohol the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees and what the TTB oversees:
FDA: covers wines under 7% and beer that is NOT made from malted barley or hops. So that would include many gluten free beers made of sorghum and other gluten free grains.
TTB: covers all spirits. It also covers all beer/beverages made from malted barley or hops.
Another difference between the FDA and TTB is that the TTB approves labels and advertising ahead of time and FDA does not. The goal for the TTB is to not allow for any misleading information to be out there.
In my post Thursday, we discussed what the new policy stated. Here are some clarifications on some finer details.
The TTB’s updated policy is effective immediately As mentioned in yesterday’s post, one new part of the policy says, “Statements, symbols, vignettes or other forms of labeling or advertising claims that expressly, or by implication characterize the relationship of a product or any substance with in the product to a disease or health-related condition (such as celiac disease) are prohibited…”
Hogue could not talk about specific brands but what I took from our conversation is, brands (like Omission) can’t post a symbol (like the CSA Recognition Seal) on its label, box or in its own advertisements. If it does, it won’t be in compliance. However, outside of the label, box and advertising, the company can have all the endorsements it wants. The TTB policy is ONLY concerned about the label and advertising.
Also, the TTB wants gluten free people to understand there is no way to test a fermented beverage (like beer) for gluten at this time. There are other ways of testing gluten in other kinds of food. But ultimately “there is no test that will tell you what the quantity of gluten is in a fermented product,” Hogue says.
Savvy Gluten Free Consumer Information
Liquor Store experience: In yesterday’s post, I posted a photo (pictured above) from the liquor store I went to during a recon mission. The store had clearly labeled the shelves gluten free even though that particular shelf had fermented or “gluten-removed products”. So I asked Hogue what part the TTB plays in that. “We don’t have authority over point-of-sale advertising. So if a retailer does that the TTB can’t control that. ”
Dining out: What if a restaurant places a gluten-removed beverage under a gluten free beer list on a menu? Isn’t that misleading advertising? Hogue said again, “The TTB’s authority is over the industry and won’t impact restaurants.”
The liquor stores and restaurants may not be paying attention to what is happening with the TTB. So we as gluten free consumers need to be educated so we can make an informed decision when you are out and about.
Hogue expects the FDA to come out with an additional ruling on fermented products. When that happens the TTB may need to make revisions to this policy again.
Another game-changer could be if a reliable test becomes available for fermented products and it is scientifically validated for gluten products, “then we would have to take that into consideration,” Hogue says.