Are Oats Gluten Free?


In Australia there is legally no such thing as Gluten Free Oats.  Oats can be sold as wheat free, uncontaminated or pure, but not gluten free.  Other countries do however allow oats to be legally sold as gluten free.

So, what’s the go with that?  Why aren’t the rules the same?  (But then again, we have different medical laws, driving laws, drinking laws, gun laws; different laws on just about everything.)  

Across the world, a significant percentage of coeliacs react negatively to pure oats. Oats contain a protein called Avenin.  Avenin can trigger the same auto-immune response as gluten does from wheat, barley or rye.  Gut damage can occur with or without symptoms so it’s not always possible to tell who reacts and who doesn’t. 

Since we can’t determine who the one in five is, Australia’s food regulatory body has chosen to assume that all coeliacs will have the same damage from oats for labelling purposes.  They include oats in the general labelling category of “containing gluten.”

The Australian and New Zealand food standards differ from food codes in many other countries who take a different approach to oats, and to gluten free labelling in general. Even though current gluten tests can’t measure the avenin from oats, many countries take the approach that gluten free is simply anything that can pass their gluten limits, (which also vary across countries.)  Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s approach is a more conservative labelling method taking into account the damage the untestable avenin can inflict. In Australia the onus is on the Coeliac to discover whether or not they can indeed eat oats whereas other countries have decided to put extra onus on the consumer to do the check for oats, and also to know if they have an oat reaction or not.  The science is the same; the decision making is different.

Coeliac Australia recommends that people with coeliac disease do not consume oats in any format, unless you have undergone a supervised oats challenge to find out how damaging oats are to you. For this you need to have a gastroscopy/biopsy showing no damage before commencing eating oats, and then one again after consuming them for a set time, once again showing hopefully no damage. Doctors can determine if oats are dangerous to the individual person through this oat challenge.   Even then, only pure “wheat free” oats can be consumed, not the general oats found in the cereal aisle or in lunchbox snacks.  The majority of oats available in Australia are unsuitable for gluten free diets even after doing the challenge due to cross contamination. Usually, Australian oats are grown next to, or milled and packed on the same equipment as, wheat, rye or barley.

GF Pantry prides itself of being the leading source of ‘safe’ gluten free food options in Australia.  We follow Coeliac Australia’s advice and choose to not stock any form of oats.  To avoid confusion, we don’t sell wheat free oats for coeliacs who have passed their oat challenge.  Everything we sell is gf to Australian standards. 

Labelling laws, testing abilities and medical advice are all subject to change.  For more information on current Australian labelling, check out our blog on gluten free labelling.  For coeliac medical advice, please refer to Coeliac Australia.