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TTB Stands its Ground on Gluten-Free Labeling of Beer Made From Barley

By: Peter Olins, PhD on February 11, 2014. 

Just received a friendly email from Tom Hogue, Director of Congressional and Public Affairs at the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau), regarding the labeling of “gluten-free” beers in the U.S. The TTB Ruling (2014-2) affects beers such as Omission Beer, which have been crafted to reduce the level of “gluten”, which is toxic to people with celiac disease:

Use of “Gluten‐Free” on TTB‐Regulated Alcohol Beverages  This regulation is an update to their Interim Regulation on gluten-free labeling of beer, issued on May 24, 2012 (TTB Ruling 2012-2).

Despite pressure from some in the brewing industry, the TTB has decided to stand its ground, and continues to require that gluten-reduced beers DO NOT have the term “gluten-free” in their labeling. In addition, the TTB states that gluten-reduced beers must clearly warn consumers that, 

“…the gluten content of the product cannot be determined and that the product may contain gluten. …”
 Clearly, the TTB is taking its lead from the FDA on what constitutes “gluten-free”, and has decided to remain consistent with the 2013 FDA labeling regulation for foods, which stresses that there is no scientifically valid way to measure the presence of “gluten” contamination in “hydrolyzed foods” such as barley-based beer

Background on Gluten-Free Labeling of Beer

Readers of our previous blogs will know that we have followed this story closely, and made a strong case that there is too little known about gluten-reduced beers (such as Omission Beer) to be confident that they are safe for people with celiac disease:

Is “Gluten-Free” Beer Made From Barley Malt Safe for Celiacs?

Gluten-Free Beer: Does Omission Beer Deliver the Goods? — A Simple Guide for the Non-Biochemist

Celiac Sprue Association Challenges Authority of FDA and TTB, Stating Omission Beer is Gluten-Free

11 comments to TTB Stands its Ground on Gluten-Free Labeling of Beer Made From Barley

  • mary ferland

    I drank their beer after checking their website where they state it is gluten free and I was sick all night.
    I hope they have to change their labeling as I believe it is fraudulent to state it is gluten free when it clearly makes people sick.

    • Peter

      Hi Mary,
      So sorry to hear about your bad experience. (Am I right in assuming that you are referring to Omission Beer, or was it a different brand)? I have seen a surprising number of similar accounts on the internet, and while there will always be the occasional person who just happens to have a bad reaction to something else, these experiences seem to be occurring too often to be just a coincidence.

      I was interested to hear that you concluded that a beer was gluten-free, based on your interpretation of the information on a brewery’s website. The wording of the updated TTB regulation clearly states that: “… the use of any other explicit or implicit claims about the gluten content of the product is prohibited if such statements are untrue in any particular or tend to create a misleading impression.

  • gordon mc donald

    I also fell for the Gluten free label on Omission beer also. Iam Australian and we love our beer, I gave it all up one year ago because of an auto immune issue. I was happy to find A Gluten Free Beer that tasted like beer(so I thought). I drank 12x O mission Pale ale beers over three days and I am so so sick. I have been for 6 days now, my stomach hurts so much and my bowels are complete liquid. I have lost a few precious pounds already which have taken me 6 months to put on. Iam really unhappy with the whole thing, pissed me right off to say the least.

    • Peter Olins

      Hi Gordon,
      So sorry to hear about your experience. Unfortunately, I have come across several others on the Internet who have had a negative reaction. I hope that the brewery will follow up on these observations. Perhaps you should contact them directly for their response?

  • Sarah

    Peter - People should be encouraged to contact the FDA, TTB, and CSA if they have adverse effects. We need to make sure they get a good idea about the number of people having issues. Several months back I filed a complaint and was told they had never heard of any issues, but I know there were many posts online already at that point.

    • Peter Olins

      Thanks, Sarah.
      Can you share the contact information for reporting adverse reactions? Do you know if anyone has actually contacted the brewer itself, to find out if it has had any feedback?
      I, too, have come across several anecdotal reports of reactions to Omission Beer on the internet. While it is almost impossible to definitively prove that the product was actually the cause of the bad reaction (rather than some other food, for example), there seem to have been too many of these reports to be just a coincidence.

      • Sarah

        I contacted Estrella about Estrella Damm Daura making me sick and I never heard back from them. In fact a few months later I heard them make a claim on a podcast that no one has ever reported adverse effects.

        I am tired of the whole ‘can’t prove’ it was due to the beer argument because they also can’t prove they are safe. But my experience was definitively the beer. I myself had only eaten at home and had one beer out before I had a severe gluten reaction. It’s the same I had once when a restaurant realized after I started eating that they gave me a wheat thickened gravy. All I had eaten that day was the same allergy free cereal I’ve eaten for two years… a box I had already been eating. And Justin’s nut butter (a jar I had opened weeks earlier) and an apple.

  • Sarah

    Here’s some contact information I have:

    FDA: 240-402-2405
    TTB: jeffrey.salisbury@ttb.gov
    CSA: celiacs@csaceliacs.org

  • gordon mc donald

    Same! My experience was most definitely the beer. I have immune disorder which I have a strict diet ect. Everything I eat is controlled, no packets, no processing, no sugar,no gluten and now no grains or yeast. The 11 beers I had sent my immune system spastic. It turned on my guts for over 6 weeks. I did not digest food for that long. I lost 20 pounds and was really weak and felt sick all the time. I tried a therapy called LDA using my own stool. It worked and I have been recovering now for 2 weeks. I have already put 12 pounds on and my digestion is working properly. That experience was extremly scary, I have been through alot in the last 6 years and this last episode was a real scare. Never ever will I touch any gluten free beer again. Ill stick to potato gin and soda.

    • Peter Olins

      Hi Gordon,
      Thanks for your comment. Over what period of time did you consume the 11 beers?
      Have you had a formal celiac disease diagnosis?

      (BTW As far as I can tell, “LDA therapy” is not an approved technique, and the approach has not not been published; so I would strongly recommend caution.)

  • Gordon mc Donald

    Hi Peter, I drank the beer over the Easter 3 days. After first night, I felt a bit sick but thought it was hangover. It wasn’t until the third day and heading to the last beer when I felt sicker looking at the bottle. Then thought better of drinking it, pretty much by next morning my guts went completely spaz. Did not digest anything, all food passed through me in one hour. I could make out the different foods I just ate.(sorry for visual)
    No I haven’t had celiac test done, I don’t want to get the biopsy done. I eat as if I’m celiac, long story but I have lots of damage from mercury poisoning from fillings and bacterial infections from gangrene jawbone from root canal. Had surgery about a year ago and got it all removed. Just going through my body and trying to repair damage. I was doing really well until I drank the beer.i also have a condition called multi focal motor neuropathy, also caused by the gangrene and mercury( btw, never get a root canal!!!! Google dangers and western price)
    I don’t do sugar, processed foods of any kind, no wheat, no gluten, now no grains, no gluten free beer and now no yeast( just in case ) so far so good, put on 14 of the 18 pounds lost.
    Gord

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