On May 24th 2012 the TTB released an interim policy on the labeling of alcoholic beverages under its jurisdiction. The TTB regulates almost all alcoholic beverages. Exceptions include beer made without malted barley, wines containing less than 7% alcohol by volume, and hard ciders containing less than 7% alcohol by volume. The aforementioned beverages are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

In the past, the TTB has not allowed gluten-free claims on beverages under their jurisdiction stating the following to me in written correspondence, “The Bureau considers labels that declare a product to be “gluten free” or lead to the impression that a product is safe for those who suffer from celiac disease as making health claims, which are prohibited.”

The new TTB policy contains several changes and clarifications regarding the labeling of alcoholic beverages. This has been driven in part by the beverage industry, some of whom wish to include gluten-free claims on product packaging.

Under the interim policy, the TTB:

  1. Will not allow gluten-free claims to be included on product labels or in product advertising if the alcohol is made with wheat, barley, rye, or crossbred varieties of these grains OR any ingredients derived from these grains.
  2. Will allow gluten-free claims on products labels and in advertisements if the alcohol is made withoutwheat, barley, rye, or crossbred varieties of these grains OR ingredients derived from these grains. BUT producers must ensure that their raw ingredients and finished products (among other things) are NOT cross-contaminated with gluten.
  3. Will allow the statement, “Processed or treated or crafted to remove gluten” for products made with wheat, barley, rye, or crossbred varieties of these grains OR any ingredients derived from these grains IF these grains or ingredients have been processed (or treated or crafted) to remove all or some of the gluten IF
    1. One of the following statements is also included on the product label or in the advertisement:
      1. “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.” OR
      2. “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.”

Tricia’s note: While the competitive R5 ELISA may be used to assess the gluten content of products that are hydrolyzed or fermented, this assay has not been formally validated in a multi-laboratory trial. The Food and Drug Administration therefore states (and the TTB is following suit) in their August 13, 2011 Federal Register Notice that, “…for some food matrices (e.g., fermented or hydrolyzed foods) there are no currently available validated methods that can be used to accurately determine if these foods contain < 20 ppm gluten.”

  1. The TTB will not approve labels with the “processed to remove gluten” claim unless the application includes a description of the method used to remove gluten as well as results of testing using the R5 Mendez Competitive ELISA.

Bottom line: Traditional beer made with barley malt can NOT be labeled or advertised as gluten-free IF it is regulated by the TTB. Distilled alcohol with a starting material of wheat, barley, or rye can NOT be labeled or advertised as gluten-free.

Caveat: The Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act) generally requires a prior certificate of label approval before beverages under its jurisdiction can be sold across state lines. IF a product is brewed and sold in the same state, this Act may not apply. For malt beverages this Act also may not apply if the laws of the state to which the beverage is being shipped do not require a prior certificate of labeling approval from the TTB. So… this is why, if you live in Oregon, you may come across a particular brand of beer made from barley malt that is labeled gluten-free. Specifically, I have been told by the TTB that, “Under the FAA Act, States have the authority not to require Federal approval regarding the labeling of malt beverages that are sold within that State.”

Yes, it is confusing, especially for consumers who do not have the time to personally figure out the intricacies of this issue. It would be far less confusing if brewers followed the labeling and advertising policies of the TTB regardless of where their beer is sold.

The TTB policy statement is available at http://www.ttb.gov/rulings/2012-2.pdf

© 2012 by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD. All rights reserved. This article may not be reprinted, reposted, or republished without the express written permission of Tricia Thompson

TTB’s Interim Policy on Gluten-Free Labeling of Alcoholic Beverages