Homegrown oats uncontaminated by wheat, barley or rye are now on the menu for Australians looking to avoid gluten in their diets.
Previously, if you were one of the 15 per cent of Australians with a gluten-free diet, trying oats meant paying for imported products as most grain growers in Australia also shared silos and harvesters with other grains, like wheat.
And while the ‘gluten free’ status of oats is complex, Australian farmers are being urged to consider uncontaminated production chains to take advantage of the soaring demand for gluten-free products.
Founder of Gloriously Free Oats Australia Kylie Martin says COVID restrictions have interrupted supply from the US, giving her the chance to work with a western Australian farmer to produce oats that have never come into contact with other gluten grains.
“He just grows oats,” she said.
“He just has sheep, so I just could see an opportunity there that he could grow crops that weren’t contaminated with grains such as wheat and rye,.
Gluten-free status complex
The term ‘gluten’ refers to proteins found in grains called prolamins that cause an immune response in people with coeliac disease.
They can be measured in wheat (gliadin), barley (hordein) and rye (secalin) but while they are known to be in oats (avenin), current tests cannot detect them.
Some gluten-sensitive people can tolerate oats, but for others, choosing to try them is a complex health decision that requires medical supervision.
Dietician and health advocacy officer for Coeliac Australia Penny Dellsperger says it means oats cannot be labelled gluten-free even if they were produced in an environment free of wheat, barley and rye, which is why they are often labelled wheat-free or uncontaminated.
“At the moment, we can test to about around three to five parts per million of gluten in food is the most sensitive test available, so that’s what gluten-free currently means,” Ms Dellsperger said.
“If someone who has coeliac disease wants to try oats, it’s important they do that under medical supervision to make sure they’re not one of those people that still react to that avenin in oats.”
Tough labelling laws
Australia’s labelling laws are some of the strictest in the world, and the testing process to reach uncontaminated status is rigorous.
It’s something that is reflected in the price, with uncontaminated oats more than double the price of regular oats per 100 grams.
“Machinery needs to be cleaned down and do a gluten-free swab, they then send off a sample to an independent testing department,” Ms Martin said.
“They have to supply us with those results that show the oats are tested nil gluten, we get it tested again and that will be the test that consumers can see on our website.
Opportunity for farmers
Despite the challenges of producing wheat-free oats, there is an opportunity for Australian farmers to dip into the market.
With tariffs in place on oats from the US and Canada, Asian countries are turning to Australia for oat imports.
“There are a lot of farmers who are growing millet or rice in various areas around Australia that we’ve pinpointed that could successfully grow this product,” Ms Martin said.
“Some of them are already producing products that are that close to uncontaminated, it’s just a few tweaks at the farm level I need to make.
“Singapore, Malaysia and Korea use gluten-free oats. There’s a great opportunity for oats because there’s a trade embargo that’s placed on the US and Canadian oats going into Asia.”
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