TTB Completes Gluten-Free Labeling Review

IMG_1465We have mentioned Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau on the site and in the podcast a few times recently. As they control what can and cannot be on the label of an alcoholic beverage in America they are an important institution for craft beer producers and consumers.

We have written before about the miracle that is Omission Beer. That rather than producing beer made with gluten-free replacement grains they add a chemical in the final steps of their brewing process that removes the gluten content well below international standards to be considered “gluten-free”. [For more details on exactly how this is done read the previous article.] This new, chemical process is important in that it creates a finished beer that still tastes strikingly similar to actual beer while beer made with non-gluten “grain” replacements often taste “funny” to beer enthusiasts.

Yet the TTB has taken a strong position that beers made with a chemical additive that removes the gluten from the final product cannot be considered gluten-free and thus cannot advertise as such on their label.

In the spring of 2012 the TTB had decided to review its policy on gluten-free labeling and Craft Brew Alliance, makers of the Omission Beer line of gluten-free beers, were hopeful that the TTB would revise its policy to match international standards for what is considered gluten-free. This standard is considered anything that is less than 20ppm gluten which Omission has demonstrated their beer is well below.

The TTB announced that has finished its review of its gluten-free policy and has decided to make no change to current policy which is devastating news for Omission Beer and similar brewers.

The TTB released a press release, this was some of their thinking:

Consistent with the new FDA regulations, TTB will continue to consider “gluten-free” label claims for alcohol beverages that are made from gluten-containing grains to be misleading to consumers who are seeking to avoid the consumption of gluten for health reasons. However, products made from gluten-containing grains may be labeled with a statement that the product was “Processed,” “Treated,” or “Crafted” to remove gluten, if that claim is made together with a qualifying statement that warns the consumer that the gluten content of the product cannot be determined and that the product may contain gluten.

TTB may revise this policy after FDA issues a final rule or other guidance with respect to fermented and hydrolyzed products. In the interim, we remind consumers that the FDA has determined there is still no scientifically valid way to evaluate the claims that beers made from gluten-containing grains can be processed in a way that removes gluten and that there is inadequate evidence about whether such methods are effective.

This is of course completely understandable logic coming from a federal agency. Deferring to the FDA as an ultimate authority on whether the processed method of removing gluten is actually affective is a perfectly understandable point even if it isn’t what the Craft Brew Alliance was hoping to get. Yet it leaves open the door that if they FDA were to rule that their method was effective and safe the TTB might change its policy as well.

While it isn’t ideal for the makers of the Omission Beer brand it hasn’t seemed to hindered their beers any as even our local bottle shops list them under the gluten-free sections of their inventory content to ignore the warnings from both the FDA and TTB.

I’m curious if any of our gluten allergic listeners have tried Omission Beers versus other officially recognized gluten-free beers and whether they have had adverse reactions to either of them.