Starting in the first half of 2010, all food manufacturers will have to label their products as to whether they contain gluten, the protein component found naturally in wheat and some other grains, that causes serious symptoms in individuals suffering from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine.
At the Knesset Committee for Children's Rights on Tuesday, Health Ministry food engineer Anat Ke'avia said that food products will be marked as having no gluten, being low in gluten or having high levels of gluten.
The disease occurs in genetically predisposed people of all ages, from toddlers through old age. Symptoms include chronic diarrhea, tiredness and children's failure to thrive.
The presence of the protein causes an inflammatory reaction that interferes with the absorption of nutrients. The only known effective treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet.
These rankings have been mandatory in most European nations and other countries, Ke'avia added, and now they will be adopted here. The new regulations will significantly improve the lives of many thousands of celiac patients, she said.
Committee chairman MK Danny Danon welcomed the new regulations, adding that there was not a large number of suitable food products sold in shops right now. The rules will encourage companies to produce more items for this sector, he said.
Gali, a 12-year-old girl with celiac disease, appeared before the committee to describe her experiences with food. Suffering from the condition since the age of five, she said that on every class trip, she must bring special food with her that her mother prepares.
"I can never eat sweet things because most of them here contain gluten," she bemoaned.
Yossi Yitzhak, assistant to the director-general of the Osem company, said that it has a large variety of products without gluten that are safe for celiac patients to eat. The problem is that they are now sold only abroad and not available in Israeli supermarkets.