The trademarks of the Gluten-Free Certification Program (GFCP) are making life a little bit easier, and act as an important marker of trust for people with celiac disease. They bring a level of credibility to the manufacturing process which a self-declared gluten-free claim cannot offer.

Affecting an estimated one in 133 North Americans, celiac disease is an autoimmune disease which causes the small intestine’s absorptive surface to be damaged by gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. As such, the body is unable to absorb nutrients that are essential for good health, including protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Symbols of trust for Canadian consumers.

There is currently no cure for celiac disease; however, following a gluten-free diet is an important way to manage the condition.

Symptoms and social impacts

Some of the gastrointestinal symptoms of celiac disease include abdominal pain, diarrhea with or without weight loss, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome.

“There are also some non-gastrointestinal symptoms, such as iron deficiency, an itchy rash – called dermatitis herpetiformis, mouth ulcers, abnormal liver enzymes, and, in adults, osteoporosis,” says Dr. Decker Butzner, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Calgary. “There are some well recognized neurological symptoms too, including headaches, ataxia – a balance issue, and peripheral neuropathy – which causes an uncomfortable tingling sensation.”

Gluten is virtually everywhere so it can be a difficult disease to manage. “It’s difficult because people with celiac disease always have to think about food and whether it’s safe or not,” says registered dietician and author of Gluten Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide, Shelley Case. “Besides the obvious sources of gluten, gluten-containing ingredients are used in a lot of other foods.

A study found that, even in people who have been on a gluten-free diet for more than five years, 50 percent of the sample group were still having problems often or very often.”

Celiac disease can also have significant social implications for those affected. Any sort of event, party or outing involving meals or food can be filled with stress, because controlling gluten-free options becomes extremely difficult. Fear or avoidance of these situations can add a whole other layer of difficulty associated with the disease.

Gluten-free certification program

The GFCP is helping consumers make informed decisions about the foods that they buy. If consumers see the blue Canadian Celiac Association (CCA) or the green National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) certification trademark on a food label, they can feel confident knowing that it is safe for the majority of those who are medically diagnosed and require a gluten-free diet.

“The certification trademarks were introduced because people were buying products that had gluten-free claims on the label, but were still getting ill after eating them."

“The certification trademarks were introduced because people were buying products that had gluten-free claims on the label, but were still getting ill after eating them,” explains Paul Valder, President of the GFCP. “Also, before these trademarks, food shopping was extremely laborious as those affected by gluten had to look at the minute details of every food label to ensure there were no potential hidden sources of gluten.”

As well as empowering consumers to make the right decisions about the foods that they buy, the GFCP guidelines are also having other positive effects. “The program has helped to provide more choice of gluten-free products,” says Valder. “We’re also seeing some indication that it’s driving down the price of gluten-free products.”

Improving the production processes of gluten-free products

The fact that the GFCP certifications are granted by an independent third party gives increased reliability and credibility, says Frank Massong, Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs at the GFCP. “The GFCP is the only program that is endorsed by the NFCA in the USA, and the CCA in Canada,” Massong says. 

“The GFCP requires that all steps in production are assessed, from receiving, handling and storing ingredients, as well as training employees and monitoring the processing, packaging and distribution of gluten-free products.”

Jennifer North, Vice president of the NFCA, believes that the partnerships between GFCP, CCA, and NFCA is extremely important. “By partnering with them and endorsing the standard created in Canada, we were able to provide the level of safety that consumers want,” North explains.

“There are lots of checks and balances built throughout the program to ensure that the unbiased, third party assessment navigates through the entire certification process, which is based on international food safety standards.”

Consumer trust

“While the general regulations have improved, many people are still looking for that additional trust that the certification gives,” says Sue Newell, Operations Manager at the CCA. “When consumers see that certification mark, they know that the food manufacturer has gone to that extra step of working through their gluten-free processes.”