Support for Spanish coeliac sufferers

Related tags Food safety agency Gluten-free diet

Spain's Food Safety Agency (AESA) has joined forces with FACE, the
organisation which supports the country's growing number of coeliac
sufferers, to ensure that foods labelled as suitable for those with
an intolerance to gluten are indeed gluten-free.

Under the terms of an agreement between the two bodies, FACE will introduce a new label-checking programme as part of its own accreditation scheme (which allows accredited companies to carry the organisation's gluten-free logo) and invest in new research to improve testing techniques for 'gluten-free' foods.

The number of Spanish coeliac sufferers is growing steadily, prompting the ministry of health to declare in October last year that the disease was becoming a real cause for concern. Tests carried out by scientists from the Madrid blood donor unit show that one in every 170 Madrilenos suffers from the disease - meaning that roughly 33,000 people in the greater Madrid region alone could be classified as suffering from it.

In part prompted by these worrying findings, the ministry has agreed to begin a nationwide epidemiological study to assess just how widespread the disease really is, and to begin a national awareness campaign, targeting both the general public and health professionals.

It will also establish an official register of gluten-free products (along the lines of that already operated by FACE) and work more closely with the food industry to ensure that good practice guidelines for the production of gluten-free foods are adhered to.

As for the collaboration between AESA​ and FACE, María Neira, president of the food safety agency, said that it was already working on a method to detect prolamins (the proteins found in seeds which cause the allergic reaction) at the molecular level - a method which would guarantee a far higher rate of success when it came to assessing whether food was genuinely gluten-free.

The agency will also continue its negotiations with the Spanish food industry in a bid to ensure that gluten-free products are not priced beyond the means of most sufferers.

Scientists on both sides of the Atlantic are currently researching a little-known cereal that could be used in breads for people with gluten intolerance.

The US Agricultural Research Service is working with scientists from Ireland and Germany to see whether kernels of food-grade - gluten-free - sorghum could be used to create a good-tasting, finely-textured bread suitable for coeliac disease sufferers.

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