Complaints have been reaching various European coeliac societies that coeliacs were feeling that they were being glutened after drinking gluten free beer. This has triggered both discussions and investigations; however, it is a highly complex situation and, as yet, it has not been solved.
Within the EU, gluten free labelling is regulated through Regulation (EU) No 609/2013 which, in turn, refers to the Codex Standard for foods for special dietary use for persons intolerant to gluten.
The Codex Standard uses the accepted specific method for gluten testing as the Enzyme-linked Immunoassay (ELISA) R5 Mendez Method and any food item that reaches the 20ppm through this method, can be legally labelled as gluten free. Furthermore, if the process meets the AOECS standard for gluten free (this standard is either equal or stricter than the EU/Codex standard), than the supplier can apply for the crossed grained symbol.
However, modified gluten (in particular in the case of beer as a result of enzymatic treatment) might render the gluten peptides unrecognisable by the antibodies used and thus resulting in an erroneous gluten free test.
A recent study suggests that the current measurement system for gluten quantification cannot fully support the gluten-free claims as defined by legislative requirements and the probability is that what is being termed compliant at the 20ppm level might, in reality, contain more than that.
A EU study is currently being undertaken and AOECS is assisting by collecting beer samples; thus, since the EU and the scientific community have still to find the ideal measurement system and that as of the moment, the EU legislation has not been modified to include other acceptable gluten measurement techniques, the AOECS and its member societies, cannot legally and officially state that gluten free beer does not comply with the legal definition of the gluten free.