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    Argentina: No Gluten? No Problem!

    I took this photo last December at popular Buenos Aires supermarket chain Disco.

    In case the resolution isn’t clear enough, the sign up top reads “Productos Celíacos” (“Products for Celiacs”).

    Like many other conventional supermarkets in the city, they delineate approximately half an aisle exclusively to gluten-free products, enabling consumers living with celiac disease to have a much easier shopping experience.

    In Argentina, the province of Buenos Aires analyzes products and stamps a gluten-free seal on them if they fall below 1 parts per million of gliadin (a protein in gluten).

    Following this inspection, the Argentine Celiac Association reviews laboratory results from the Ministry of Health and must give its approval before a product can officially be sold as “gluten free.”

    It’s not just supermarkets that provide gluten information.

    Persicco, a renowned gelateria with various branches in Buenos Aires, places a gluten-free icon next to the flavors that are celiac-friendly.

    Although the United States offers thousands of gluten-free products to the approximately three million people diagnosed with celiac disease (as of 2007, the market was valued at $700 million!), these are mostly available exclusively online or specific health food stores.

    I have not, at least in New York City, seen standard supermarkets devote as much as one shelf to gluten-free products.

    Part of the problem, I think, is the lack of regulation. Although you may see “gluten free” advertised on many products, no official standards for this claim have been set.

    Last January, the Food and Drug Administration attempted to tackle this problem.

    Currently, there is no Federal regulation that defines the term “gluten-free” used in the labeling of foods.

    Based upon comments FDA received during its public meeting on “gluten-free” food labeling held in August 2005 and other information available to the Agency, there is no universal understanding among U.S. food manufacturers or consumers about the meaning of a food labeled as “gluten-free.”

    You can view the PDF file of the full (and by full I mean “very long”) gluten-free labeling proposal here.

    The 90-day comment period concluded last April, but I haven’t heard anything since.

    I do believe, though, that the original plan was to have something sorted out no later than December of this year.

    I’m interested in hearing from readers who are gluten intolerant.

    Do you find it difficult to know what products to buy and stay away from due to a lack of federal standards?

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