Allowing products sold as gluten-free in Australia to contain more gluten would hurt the country’s reputation in the sector and could affect some consumers, the MD of Freedom Foods Group has said.

Rory Macleod told just-food the idea of lifting the threshold on the amount of gluten in gluten-free products – supported by Australia’s food industry association – would hit the country’s “real, unique advantage” in the sector.

“Australia already has the best standards. You can only say ‘free’ if you test to the lowest detectable standard. It can’t be some gluten, it has to be no gluten. Why would Australia want to in effect go away from being the standard bearer in the world market?” Macleod said. “What the Australian Food and Grocery Council is potentially looking at will diminish how Australia is seen in the context of the gluten-free market.”

The AFGC has yet to make a formal application to Australia’s food regulators to lift the threshold from no detectable gluten to 20 milligrams of gluten per kilogram. However, the AFGC, with support from Coeliac Australia, which supports those with coeliac disease, believes a change in the threshold could provide more choice to consumers and lower the price of products available.

Macleod, who runs a business selling gluten-free breakfast cereals and snacks among other products, argued it was “a nonsense” to argue the choice of products available for Australian consumers is limited. “The Australian consumer is not devoid of choice and has got, to some extent, far better quality products and range across a number of segments than around the world.”

The Freedom Foods MD also claimed a change to the threshold could have a negative impact on the health of some coeliacs. “There are certain coeliacs that react below 20ppm,” he said.

Coeliac Australia has claimed putting the threshold at 20ppm is “safe” for people with coeliac disease and said the change would take Australia in line with the UK, the EU, Canada and, it said, soon the US.

A spokesperson for the AFGC said it had surveyed its members that produce gluten-free products and claimed “80-90%” of them supported its proposal.

“Some of our members will benefit as it will make products cheaper. On other products it will give them certainty what claims they can make in the context of improving technologies,” the spokesperson said. “The focus is about establishing a safe level of gluten in gluten-free products that have a dietary issue as opposed to a zero level.”

The spokesperson said there was no date yet for when the proposal could go before Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. However, he added: “We have approached this in a scientific way and have sought medical evidence. This is not us pulling a number out of the sky to suit our needs. It’s based on evidence. This has been fully collaborative with our stakeholders. We are an agency that has been collaborative with our members and our stakeholders and have sought advice on that.”

Click here for the full interview with Freedom Foods Group MD Rory Macleod, in which he also discusses the company’s NPD strategy and how it plans to expand in North America.