Update (2/11/2020): Since originally publishing this article, General Mills has removed all products mentioning “gluten friendly” from their web site. It’s still unclear what their intentions are on release of the products. We’ll update as we hear more.
General Mills may soon release a line of new products labelled as “Gluten Friendly” which, we can only assume, is targeted at non-celiac gluten free dieters. However, it turns out this product is not quite as friendly as they claim. It does not actually meet any GF requirements by law. In what seems to be a rather distasteful marketing ploy, General Mills has placed a “GF” logo on the front of the box which bares a striking resemblance to the actual Certified Gluten Free logo.
For those with celiac disease, the real GF logo is an extremely important designation that implies a safe product to consume. It should only have one meaning: “Gluten Free”. Gluten Free labelling comes with requirements by the FDA for a product to meet a standard of 20ppm or less gluten content. General Mills has been clear in stating that their product does not meet this specification and therefore is unsafe for people with celiac disease.
Deceptive “Gluten Friendly” Labelling
Their new products, being labelled as “gluten friendly”, is undoubtedly deceiving. It undermines the important work that’s been done to promote stricter GF labelling requirements on products by law. What amplifies our frustration is that they place a GF icon on the front of the package that is strikingly similar to the Certified Gluten Free logo, a gold standard qualification by the Gluten Intolerance Group. It’s used by many with celiac to identify safe food they can eat.
There are several existing certifications that come with specific testing requirements. The labelling that General Mills has “self created” does not meet any of them. When a company such as General Mills makes a negligent decision, such as this, it can also result in other companies following suit. It’s hard to see this as anything but a conscious decision by General Mills to create deceptive marketing. Either that, or they are trying to skirt the legal liability and costs associated with producing a true, gluten-free product at mass.
A Possibly Dangerous Mistake
So, how dangerous is this really? When Nora was diagnosed with celiac disease, we took steps to make our home safe for her. But, imagine going to a holiday gathering at a relatives house with your celiac child. It’s an already anxiety generating activity, by the way. With best of intentions, your relative has put together some gluten-free options and mistakenly purchases this item that’s labelled with a GF logo. Safe, right? Not if it’s General Mills’ new Gluten Friendly Brownie Mix or Frozen Biscuit Dough.
Rather, these products have met NO safety requirements as defined by the FDA. Consuming this product could potentially trigger an immediate auto-immune response in a person with celiac disease. This could happen at a gathering, a friends house, anywhere! For celiacs, GF is like an allergy warning and a food corporation such as General Mills should know better than to use it for any other purpose.
Get to know the real Gluten Free labels.
On their web site, General Mills has the following text to describe their new Brownie Mix.
Gluten friendly* chocolate brownie mix in an easy, “just add water” format from Gold Medal™. Formulated to produce brownies with moist, fudge-like texture with rich, intense chocolate flavor.
*Gluten friendly in this context means items manufactured without gluten-containing ingredients. General Mills does not claim these items meet FDA requirements for “gluten-free” because of the possibility for cross-contamination with gluten, including due to shared cooking and prep areas in kitchens.– General Mills Web Site
As a caretaker to a child with celiac disease you should get to know the REAL gluten free designations that products carry. To be clear, this is applicable in the United States only.
- All FDA-regulated foods, imported foods, and dietary supplements that contain the phrase “gluten free” must test at a level below 20 ppm (parts per million), not contain a gluten ingredient (wheat, rye, barley, or a hybrid) and not contain an item derived from a gluten-containing ingredient.
- Gluten-free logos are not regulated by the FDA. Instead, independent organizations and companies have approved the use of their gluten free logo on products that meet their qualifications or certifications — each of them having different requirements for approved use.
- Gluten Friendly is never celiac safe.
- You should default to reading the actual ingredient list.
What can you do?
For starters, do not purchase these products when and if they’re released. Second, inform those close to you about their deceptive practice so that your friends and relatives are aware of the dangers (share this post with them if that helps) and can learn to properly identify safe products for you or your child.
For now, consolidate your feedback through this page at Gluten Free Watchdog. Lastly, if you come across a product that you feel is deceitful, report it to your local FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator. You can find a list here. Let us know in the comments below what you think and if you decide to take any action.