Celiac Support Association

Discussion:  Naturally Gluten-free Beers and Traditional Beers with Reduced Gluten




 CSA advocates for industry wide MEANINGFUL VERIFIABLE, and CONSISTENT gluten-free labeling definitions.  

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Celiac Support Association: Results of gluten-reduced beer survey

May 2015

The Celiac Support Association (CSA) conducted a three-month survey asking members of the public who follow a gluten-free diet, by medical necessity or choice, about their experience with gluten-reduced beers. Gluten-reduced beers are those that are made with traditional ingredients like barley and wheat and then processed with an enzyme to break down the gluten into smaller amino acid sequences or amino acids. Gluten-free beer, by contrast, is made from naturally gluten-free ingredients like sorghum or rice. In order to gather information beneficial to CSA and its mission of helping those with celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders lead a full and healthy life, this survey is the beginning of a dialogue with the public to obtain in the field information to help guide CSA. Among other things, CSA is advocating for sufficient research and economical testing methods to determine gluten content and safety in fermented and hydrolyzed products from gluten sources. 

A number of events coming together in a relatively short period of time have prompted CSA to conduct this survey, which is the start of what will be an ongoing process to help CSA members, the celiac community, and others with gluten-related disorders improve the options available to them to live a healthy life. The fairly recent introduction of the gluten-reduced beer, the promulgation of federal gluten-free labeling regulation, and the development of the Innovative Category of gluten-free certification for products by CSA, have been the impetus for CSA to, as part of its mission, be on the front wave of developments in science, medicine, product innovation and legislation.

Summary

Gluten-reduced beer was a popular beverage among the survey respondents, liked by almost 90% of those who chose to try it. However, 43% of respondents who had tried a gluten-reduced beer reported a response to it. Many more expressed confusion or concern over how gluten-reduced beer is packaged, marketed and presented in a retail environment; problems included inadequate differentiation from gluten-free beer and being described by restaurant menus, shelf signs or store employees as gluten-free. Over 40% of respondents were unaware at the time of purchase that the beer contained wheat or barley source ingredients. Finally, the responses bring to question whether the gluten-free labeling is misleading to those who rely upon that information to make health decisions and to what extent consumers are arming themselves with information by reading labels.

About the survey

The survey was conducted from December 22, 2014, to February 28, 2015, and administered by the online survey hosting company FluidSurveys. The Celiac Support Association compiled and summarized the results. Nine hundred and eighty-five people responded to the survey. All of the data collected will be available to the public. In addition to answering the seven questions on the survey, 378 respondents provided additional comments. At a later time the comments will be published in full with identifying data removed.

Who responded to the survey

The overwhelming majority of respondents indicated that they follow a gluten-free diet for medical reasons. Seventy-six percent of the respondents were diagnosed with celiac disease, 13% have another diagnosis that requires a gluten-free diet and 11% follow a gluten-free diet “for non-celiac health reasons.”

Gluten-reduced beer brands

Two thirds of respondents had tried at least one barley-based beer processed to remove gluten and one third had not. Of those who had tried one or more gluten-reduced beer, 74% had tried Omission, 43% had tried Estrella Damm Daura, 10% had tried Brunehaut, 8% had tried Prairie Path and 25% had tried “other” brands.

Enjoyment and physical responses

Almost ninety percent of respondents who had tried a gluten-reduced beer reported that they "liked it".

Of those who tried a gluten-reduced beer and “liked it”, 57% reported they would consume it again. 32% reported they had a reaction.

Altogether, 43% of respondents who had tried a gluten-reduced beer experienced a slight or strong reaction to it, whether or not they "liked it."  

Awareness of gluten ingredients at time of beer purchase

Fifty-seven percent of respondents indicated that they were aware at the time of purchase that the beer contained wheat or barley, and 43% were not aware of wheat or barley ingredients at the time of purchase. Those results call into question whether or not some consumers are availing themselves of the information required to be on the labels by the government (see regulations on labeling near the end of this summary), or whether the consumption is talking place in settings where the product may have been removed from the labeled container, such as at a restaurant or party. Further information as to this lack of awareness would be beneficial. 

Opinion on “gluten-free” labeling of gluten-reduced products

Seventy-two percent of respondents commented that products containing wheat or barley ingredients and processed to remove gluten should not be marketed as gluten-free, while 28% were not concerned about the labeling of the product as gluten-free.

Comments submitted in the survey

Survey respondents included 378 comments, which we analyzed for patterns. The most striking result was that over a hundred comments described the labeling, packaging and marketing of gluten-reduced beer compared to naturally gluten-free beer as confusing, harmful, ambiguous or false, the beer was presented as gluten-free in a retail environment. In addition, many others described a need for greater differentiation in packaging and marketing gluten-reduced versus gluten-free products.

Final notes

An informal survey like this one contains response bias – that is, the data is skewed toward those who chose to respond to it, usually because they have a strong response (positive or negative) to the topic of the survey. However, it provides useful feedback for our organization. The survey results and this summary are being shared with the public, manufacturers of gluten-reduced beer and federal regulatory agencies. Pursuing additional information from the responses will be important to not only educate the educator, but the consumer who is ultimately responsible for making the choices for his or her well-being. 

Types of beer and how they are regulated and labeled



Regular beer

Barley or wheat, which are gluten-containing grains in traditional beers that can adversely affect those with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and other gluten related conditions. Beer is regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

Gluten-free beer

Gluten-free beer is made from naturally gluten-free ingredients such as sorghum, buckwheat, rice and millet. Because malted beverages are made from nontraditional ingredients, naturally gluten-free beer is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instead of the TTB. The FDA allows products to be labeled gluten-free if they contain less than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten. However, the FDA is planning to propose a separate rule this year on the gluten-free labeling of fermented and hydrolyzed foods. Current industry gluten test kits are accurate for complete gluten molecules but not for the gluten fragments after fermentation.

Gluten-reduced beer

Gluten-reduced beers are those made with traditional gluten-containing ingredients such as barley, and then processed with an enzyme to break down the gluten into smaller amino acids sequences or single amino acids. 

Under the TTB 2012 ruling, malted beverages made with malted barley and hops cannot use the “gluten-free” claim. However, labels and advertisements may include truthful and accurate statements, and if a gluten content statement is used it must include one of the following qualifying statements: “Product fermented from grains containing gluten and [processed or treated or crafted] to remove gluten. The gluten content of this product cannot be verified, and this product may contain gluten.”

“This product was distilled from grains containing gluten, which removed some or all of the gluten. The gluten content of this product cannot be verified, and this product may contain gluten.”

 

© June 2, 2015, by Celiac Support Association. All Rights Reserved.  Results may not be reposted, reprinted, republished, or paraphrased without the express written permission of the Celiac Support Association.

 

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