European Commission on gluten free: “Same level of protection”

Simon Coveney, Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, presiding the 3234th meeting of the Council of the European Union, 22 April 2013. The political agreement of December 2012, laying the ground for a transfer of “gluten free” to general food law, was recently formalized by the Council. The very next day, the European Commission announced what it understands “at least the same level of protection” to mean: the same level of protection as now, though extended in scope of application to non pre-packed foods. This seems to confirm that the limit on the gluten content (currently 20 ppm) will remain the only requirement.

The latest and probably last version contains no substantive changes compared to the political agreement of December 2012 when it comes to the “gluten free” issue. The most prominent change is that the subject moved from Recital 26 to Recital 41.

Voting results Council fist reading 2011/0156(COD), 22 April 2013Formally, the Council vote was on its position at first reading on proposal 2011/0156(COD). Just as with the vote on the political compromise, all countries voted in favor except Germany (against) and UK (abstained). As an explanation, these countries issued exactly the same statements as in December 2012, suggesting their objections are not related to the “gluten free” part.

The European Commission responded to the Council’s decision the next day and wrote about “gluten free”:

“The Commission supports the Council’s position that will not only guarantee the maintenance of the same level of protection for consumers, but will also allow extending the existing rules to non pre-packed foods, thus increasing consumers’ protection.”
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, 23 April 2013

Notice how the Commission interprets the political agreement’s words “at least the same level of protection”: The Commissie understands this to mean the same level of protection plus extension of the scope of application to non pre-packed foods. It seems that the Commission is saying that nothing will be added to the current requirement of 20 ppm for carrying a “gluten free” mark. For the Commission, it seems, additional requirements such as those invented by some MEPs last year, such as requirements regarding the nutritional value, vitamins, minerals, production method and medical-scientific research on the composition of the product, are out of the question.

The Commission also mentions the Council’s request to think about making a distinction between food that with ingredients that were made gluten free and naturally gluten free food, although it does not give any comments on this request.

The proposal is now at the European Parliament, where it will probably first be discussed by the ENVI Committee before being tabled in a plenary session for second reading. The Procedure file on 2011/0156(COD) of the European Parliament currently shows 10 June 2013 as a date for both an ENVI Committee vote and consideration in a plenary meeting. An ENVI Committee listing also mentions the date of 29 May 2013.

Considering that the ENVI Committee already approved this agreement last December, the European Parliament will no doubt vote in favor. But perhaps some members will use the opportunity to tell the Commission their opinion on the distinction between rendered gluten free and naturally gluten free foods.

What would you like to tell your MEP? Leave your comments below!

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