National Commentary

Congressman Moran’s News Commentary

Enacted in 2004, the “Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act” outlined a series of regulations and requirements for the Food and Drug Administration to increase information and reduce the impact of food allergies. With approximately two percent of adults and five percent of infants and young children in the United States suffering from food allergies, an update to FDA regulations was needed to help combat the roughly 30,000 children and adults requiring emergency room treatment and 150 who die because of allergic reactions to food each year. Among the many changes enacted by the “Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act” one in particular stands out because it remains unresolved despite Congress’ direction, and that is the requirement calling for a federal definition of the term “gluten-free” on food products to be created.

Enacted in 2004, the “Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act” outlined a series of regulations and requirements for the Food and Drug Administration to increase information and reduce the impact of food allergies.

With approximately two percent of adults and five percent of infants and young children in the United States suffering from food allergies, an update to FDA regulations was needed to help combat the roughly 30,000 children and adults requiring emergency room treatment and 150 who die because of allergic reactions to food each year.

Among the many changes enacted by the “Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act” one in particular stands out because it remains unresolved despite Congress’ direction, and that is the requirement calling for a federal definition of the term “gluten-free” on food products to be created.

From the evening news to school hallways, the issue of gluten sensitivity and gluten intolerance has received a lot of attention in recent years. Nearly three million adults and children suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder by which consumption of gluten causes damage to the small intestine and does not allow food to be properly absorbed. New research led by the University of Maryland has shown a growing number of gluten-sensitivities, now affecting roughly 17 million Americans.

But despite the rising prevalence of celiac and other gluten-related allergies, the 2008 deadline for what can pass as being gluten-free has come and gone without resolution. Currently, there is no standard for the term “gluten-free,” though the phrase appears on many items in the grocery store. For celiac sufferers and others with gluten sensitivities, this lack of a clear definition can make trips to the grocery store anxiety provoking, confusing, and even hazardous to their health.

This week, I wrote a letter, signed by a number of my colleagues in the House of Representatives, to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg urging her to take immediate action to finalize a definition of what constitutes a gluten-free product. The American Celiac Disease Alliance also joined in our call to the FDA.

The FDA has access to world-class researchers and been given a reasonable timeline to fix this problem. Their inaction risks the health of our families and needlessly fosters worry for the millions of parents whose children cannot be exposed to gluten.

Many individuals with food allergies face needless frustration, confusion, and illness as a part of daily life because of inaccurate food labeling. An important role of the federal government is that of regulator and educator. Particularly on issues like gluten sensitivity, the federal government can and should fulfill its responsibility in a timely manner. I await the FDA’s response so we can resolve this issue quickly before more people are put at risk due to confusing or inaccurate gluten labels.

 


Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

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