On November 14, 2014, Canada’s Minister of Health announced her intention to issue a marketing authorization permitting certain gluten-free claims for specially produced oats.

Whether or not oats that do not contain gluten from wheat, rye, barley, (or hybridized strains), could claim to be “gluten-free” has been debated within Canada’s health and food authorities for a number of years. Health Canada has concluded, based on its review of scientific literature, that individuals who are sensitive to gluten – such as those with celiac disease – could nonetheless tolerate a limited amount of oats (uncontaminated with wheat, barley, rye or their hybridized strains). Health Canada also concluded that there was no need to recommend that individuals with celiac disease limit their intake of oats that are specially produced and that do not contain more than 20 parts per million of gluten.

The labeling debate has historically centered around the fact that while gluten may be naturally present in a food or ingredient, it may also be present in the food because of cross-contamination. Frequently referred to as “adventious presence” – gluten could also be found in oats because that presence was technically unavoidable. Foods that would not normally contain gluten might nonetheless show the presence of gluten because of accepted agricultural practices and procedures used when foods/grains are being harvested, transported, or stored.

As presently framed, the proposed marketing authorization would exempt “gluten-free oats” claims from prohibitions in Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations provided the following conditions are met:

  1. The food contains no oats other than specially produced “gluten-free oats”;
  2. The finished product does not contain greater than 20 ppm of gluten from wheat, rye, barley, or their hybridized strains;
  3. The food contains no intentionally added gluten from wheat, rye, barley, or their hybridized strains; and
  4. The “gluten-free oats” are clearly identified as such in all cases where ‘oats’ are referenced, including in the list of ingredients.

The oats would be identified as “gluten-free oats” (as distinct from regular oats – which were not specially produced to contain 20 ppm or less of gluten) to assist those who are sensitive to gluten to determine which oats have been specially produced and which have not. Interested parties have until January 27, 2015 to comment on the proposal.