Should gluten-free foods be subsidised?

Should the Federal Government introduce a medical-foods program to subsidise GF foods?

In the wake of the increasing number of people buying gluten-free (GF) goods, the Federal Government is being called upon to consider a subsidised medical-foods program for those with coeliac disease.

This request follows a recent study showing that for a family with two children, the costs of having a GF diet is up to 17 per cent more than a standard diet, with GF bread costing nearly five times more and GF flour being 570 per cent more expensive than plain flour – so even making something from scratch can be outrageously expensive.

Additionally, the study found that a single man on welfare took a “significant hit” due to the higher prices of GF foods, spending 75 per cent of his welfare income on gluten-free products, in order to get enough calories in his diet.

The study was conducted in Australia, at the University of Wollongong, and compared the weekly cost of a trolley of gluten-free goods with a regular weekly shopping basket, for which data was obtained from supermarkets in five different suburbs in the Illawarra area south of Sydney.

According to the Dieticians Association of Australia (DAA), the study results “demonstrate for the first time that a gluten-free diet is a significant financial burden for many Australian family types.”

Read more at University of Wollongong and abc.net.au

Opinion: GF foods not the main issue

It would be easy for me say “what a whole lot of hogwash” to a government-subsidised medical-foods program for gluten-free foods. And, I guess, many would have that response. But, in all honesty, despite the complexities of delivering such a program, I can see a place for it for those one-in-100 Australians who have coeliac disease and must follow a gluten-free diet – without which they are likely to suffer serious health problems.

Nevertheless, for me, there’s a much more important food-accessibility issue than this, which affects all Australians – not just one per cent of the population. Many gluten-free foods are highly processed and many processed foods contain gluten – neither are great for our health. While on the other hand, most wholefoods are free of gluten – think milk, meat, vegetable, nuts, legumes and fruit. The only wholefoods that contain gluten are cereal grains, including wheat, rye, barley and spelt.

So when an avocado or head of broccoli costs more than a McDonald cheeseburger, surely as a society, we must ask whether we are seriously letting down our very own species.

In my opinion, higher prices for processed foods and lower-priced (or subsidised) wholefoods, would be a big step in the right direction. But no industry should stand to benefit financially from such a move – just we the consumers.

Would you support a budget move to subsidise GF foods? Would you be happy to pay more for processed foods – e.g. sugar tax on soft drinks – if it meant that wholefoods would be more affordable? Are you in favour of extending GST to all takeaway and ‘junk foods’?

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    COMMENTS

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    Hobbit
    27th Apr 2016
    10:22am
    Except those people diagnosed by a doctor as having coeliac disease, Gluten Free is just another diet fad,
    petes2506
    27th Apr 2016
    10:23am
    If they put a tax on sugar drinks does that mean sugar free drinks sugar such as diet coke and Soda Water will be cheaper than drinks with sugar.
    Ted Wards
    27th Apr 2016
    12:56pm
    just buy coles brand, 75 cents
    Ted Wards
    27th Apr 2016
    12:58pm
    Better yet just drink water, its better for you and has many benefits unlike carbonated drinks which have no nutritional value for your body whatsoever!
    Rae
    27th Apr 2016
    4:34pm
    These drinks don't use sugar they use corn syrup.
    Anonymous
    27th Apr 2016
    9:11pm
    Rae - that's just sugar in another form.
    jackie
    27th Apr 2016
    10:30am
    Unprocessed foods should be cheaper than all processed foods. Gluten free bread, cakes etc, should be cheaper because they contain cheap rice flour. These manufacturers are exploiting the sick and should not be subsidised for that. Bread making machines can be subsidised for gluten sufferers that can't afford to buy bread. I think all convenience should come at a price becaue it encourages obesity and laziness.
    Rae
    27th Apr 2016
    4:36pm
    Family members who are gluten intolerant make breads, cakes and pizza bases quite easily by hand and baked in the ordinary oven.

    None of them are lazy or obese. It really does not take long to make a loaf of bread.
    Reeper
    27th Apr 2016
    11:10am
    No! Emphatically No! Subsidising specific types of food is the thin end of the wedge. I have some gluten problems and grocery shopping for me is interesting because I read labels and have found out some amazing information about the rubbish we eat. But from a Gluten point of view I don't think I spend a great deal more than anyone else - shop wisely is the answer
    Richied
    27th Apr 2016
    11:56am
    Exactly. One benefit with having some food allergy is you become more educated about foods - you tend to read labels, and even buy healthier overall.
    Ted Wards
    27th Apr 2016
    12:58pm
    only processed foods have gluten in them. Fruit, veg and meats dont. It simple.
    Anonymous
    27th Apr 2016
    4:31pm
    There are plenty of foods that are gluten free, no need for a subsidy. I'd rather like to see the halal certification costs taken off our food!
    Anonymous
    27th Apr 2016
    9:13pm
    Ted Wards - an unprocessed grain of wheat has gluten in it.

    Trood - please tell us how much you are paying for Halal certification, and what's wrong with it.
    maxchugg
    28th Apr 2016
    5:18pm
    Reeper is wrong. People with coeliac disease deserve assistance in managing their problem just as asthmatics, for example, receive a subsidy on Ventolin., etc.
    Barak is 100% dead right. Halal is extortion and should be illegal.
    Halal is also a reason why church income other than offerings should be taxable.
    Anonymous
    29th Apr 2016
    9:51am
    Yes, that's true Reeper, but I think wholefoods could be cheaper than what they are - especially when compared to processed foods.
    Mazza
    27th Apr 2016
    11:26am
    No, that proposal is nonsense. What about people who have food allergies, food intolerances, other specific dietary needs to manage health conditions? Those people would represent a FAR higher percentage of people than the few with legitimately medically diagnosed coeliac disease. Everyone has their own food needs and issues. The government should have no responsibility for that, except to provide information to medicos and the public.
    Anonymous
    29th Apr 2016
    9:53am
    Yes, Mazza, that's true – how far can you go with this. It can open a can of worms. That's why 'real food' needs to be cheaper than processed ones.
    Troubadour
    27th Apr 2016
    11:26am
    I agree entirely with all Lesh has to say. Keep our healthy foods cheaper, mot are
    gluten free anyway. - the price of some fruit and veg at present is out of range for some Pensioners.
    Have you ever tried to bake things with gluten free flour - it is impossible to work with!!
    Most of the coeliacs and gluten intolerant people I know have learnt to adapt and still eat well.
    john
    27th Apr 2016
    11:28am
    the onus should be on the vastly avaristic companies who charge way over the top on healthy products. if there is any government intervention it should be to limit percentage profit on products
    KSS
    27th Apr 2016
    5:31pm
    Trust me the products sold as gluten free are not always 'healthy' at all and can in fact be worse than the original because they have more sugar, fat and less fibre. people seem to equate gluten free with healthy for some reason. Its not!
    CarolAT
    27th Apr 2016
    11:34am
    Indeed Hobbit, just a fad but a fad that has been a god-send for people with coeliac disease. I would like to see fresh foods subsidised plus HONESTY in labelling - no more fat free/healthy choice when the item is laden with sugar. It doesn't need a tax, just honesty - people will soon place an item back on the shelf (and quick smart) when they realise that it's neither 'healthy' nor slimming but sugar-laden - only then will the manufacturers come up with truly healthy choices.
    Rae
    27th Apr 2016
    4:39pm
    Especially when it is corn syrup pretending to be sugar.
    Anonymous
    29th Apr 2016
    9:55am
    Hi CarolAT, labelling is definitely an BIG issue. I always read the ingredients list when buy a packaged food. But, there's no ingredient list of an apple, and that tells me it's a wholefood – so the bulk of my groceries are not in packages.
    emjay
    27th Apr 2016
    11:37am
    I use gluten free flour to bake, and while it may not win show awards, it produces good eating cakes. Possibly not too good for pastry though.
    Saalbach
    27th Apr 2016
    11:45am
    Perhaps a better solution would be to spend some money to find out why as a society, we have become more gluten intolerant. This wasn't an issue 50 years ago - what has changed?
    Richied
    27th Apr 2016
    11:58am
    nih.gov says the two main probably factors are increased hybridisation of wheat, and a far cleaner environment for kids during their formative years (and therefore less exposure to dirt, and to a large variety of foods - both needed to fire up the immune system).
    Greg
    27th Apr 2016
    2:00pm
    Actually it may have been an issue 50 years ago but the awareness of CD was not there. It's still a problem, people can be feeling sick and just put it down to eating to much or maybe something didn't agree with them. Some doctors too are not as aware as they should be, they'll prescribe antacids and see how that goes. Obviously the doctors are getting better at referring people to specialists and this maybe why the prevalence of CD is greater.
    Anonymous
    27th Apr 2016
    9:15pm
    Greg - far more people claim to be gluten intolerant than actually are.
    Anonymous
    29th Apr 2016
    9:56am
    I agree with Richied, the type of wheat has changes, and this could potentially be one of the factors for increased CD and gluten intolerance.
    TicToc
    27th Apr 2016
    11:46am
    Gluten free staples, such as bread, pasta, flour, cereals, should be subsidised for those with Medically diagnosed Coeliac Disease or medically diagnosed disorders associated with Coeliac Disease.
    In the UK, Medically diagnosed Coeliacs receive subsidies for staples, which are more expensive than their cheap wheat, oats, barley & rye counterparts.
    The 'hidden' gluten is a major problem for Coeliacs, eg. sauces,condiments, just look at ingredient panel of any food item, you will be amazed at the amount of food items that have 'wheat starch' added to them, for example
    The cost to a family with children with Coeliac Disease is quite significant. Even for myself, an older person with Coeliac Disease, the cost of buying gluten free staples is significant. My daughter and her children also have Coeliac Disease, and the extra cost places an unfair burden on them.
    IF this was a Medically diagnosed disease for which medication could be prescribed, it would be subsidised (PBS), but unfortunately, at this time, adhering to a strict GLUTEN FREE diet is the only treatment available.
    I invite you to check out the Australian Coeliac Society's webpage, learn more of the serious lifethreatening complications which may occur if Coeliacs do not adhere to a strict Gluten Free diet, and see how the cost of (prescribed by doctor) subsidised staples (as in UK) would cost less to community, than the cost of treatment for say, lymphoma, cancer, etc. as a direct complication result of untreated (following gf diet) coeliac disease?
    Thanks to all for reading more about this insidious, underdiagnosed disease. Many people have undiagnosed Coeliac Disease, which manifests itself in many different ways, and are only diagnosed when they suffer from a complication from this.
    ps.
    Nothing more exasperating (or just annoying), than trying to eat at a café/restaurant, explaining about 'cross contamination' to have someone remark 'Oh, I don't 'eat' gluten, but a little bit doesn't hurt'.
    OH YES IT DOES ..... FOR COELIACS
    Curious
    27th Apr 2016
    11:49am
    Tax junk foods, sugar added foods and drinks. lower taxes on gluten and sugar free foods. All vegetables and fruits should be exempt from any tax. And then we may have a healthier or poorer un healthier society.
    KSS
    27th Apr 2016
    8:36pm
    Fresh food is not taxed now!
    Richied
    27th Apr 2016
    11:55am
    Gluten intolerance is four times more prevalent now than just fifty years ago. The US national institute of health states that this rise is most probably due to two factors: hybridisation of wheat crops, and an increasingly clean environment that reduces the number of factors that challenge and stimulate the developing immune system (ref: celiac.nih.gov).

    Rather than focus on acting on the effect (higher incidence of celiec disease and allergies), perhaps more money should be spent on a) research into how to address the problems caused by hybridisation, and b) awareness campaigns to encourage parents to let their kids get a little dirty (and exposed to greater variety of foods etc at an early age) to fire up the immune system.

    Of course, that doesn't help those who have this issue now. Ensuring their diet minimises the exposure to foods that cause their symptoms is probably the best way.

    Unfortunately there are many foods that people are allergic to, so does that mean we provide subsidies for alternatives for all of them?

    27th Apr 2016
    12:07pm
    No way! We are paying too much for everything as it is. The government certainly won't subsidise anything for nothing, as these costs are always pasted on to consumers whether you buy the goods or not. Wake up to yourselves.
    student
    27th Apr 2016
    12:33pm
    I have dietary problems, and it is very confusing trying to eat low-carb.,high protein,low 'bad' fats and it just keeps going on. A subsidy would help me and mine, but I say NO. I live with it and I get by. Give a subsidy to gluton free and every dietary disease will want one. Tell the growers of our grains etc not to contaminate our foods with so many chemicals and not to use GMF. Then maybe we would be a lot healthier.
    Ted Wards
    27th Apr 2016
    12:54pm
    Here's a tip. Just buy fresh fruit and vegetables, make your own sauces and go without bread. Its processed foods that a gluten free that are expensive. A true gluten free diet is a natural diet with no processed foods. How simple is that, and yes 1000's of people live that way and since mankind began. Supermarkets changed all that.
    Travellersjoy
    27th Apr 2016
    1:00pm
    Only if there is a subsidy for women's sanitary products.

    Best to tax the sick making foods.

    There is no evidence provided for higher prices. Retailers and marketers charge what the market will bear - or, if there is a subsidy, whatever is not regulated and can make them a profit.

    What an inane suggestion.
    KSS
    27th Apr 2016
    1:15pm
    As someone with a medically diagnosed reason for eschewing gluten, I say an emphatic NO to subsidising gluten free foods. When you consider what most of those products are (cakes, biscuits, packet mixes, pizza bases, bread, crackers, lollies, processed small goods, etc) we can all do with cutting down gluten free or not. If you have been medically diagnosed with a condition that necessitates removing gluten, frankly it is a relief and no real hardship to avoid it because the consequences of not doing so are too high. In my opinion, most of these 'fake' breads etc are so awful they are not worth bothering with anyway.

    However, I agree with all those who have made a case for subsidising fresh foods. That and a bit of education about the new diet and yes even on how to make 'treat' foods should be subsidised. I am not interested in co-paying for all those who claim to be gluten free yet still tuck into their bangers and mash followed by an ice cream cone.
    Phil1943
    27th Apr 2016
    1:46pm
    I believe that gluten can cause problems for many people but strongly disagree with any suggestion that GF foods should be subsidised. Manufacturers should be encouraged to reduce their prices on such products by governments using other tools than financial subsidies.
    Nanday
    27th Apr 2016
    2:28pm
    No. Absolutely no. I would support some kind of tax or levy to subsidise farmers, provided that the end result was that fruit, vegetable, dairy and meat basics were cheaper for everyone. If a bag of potato chips was more expensive than a bag of apples, we might see a real change in food buying choices, and we would all benefit from it.
    ekbg2002
    27th Apr 2016
    2:39pm
    Yes, as my husband and I both are coeliac, our daughter, not living with us, as adult, also dx coeliac - the cost is astronomical! I think this should happen, but only for those medically dx with coeliac disease and must be members of Coeliac Australia as well.
    Gluten free - no way, diet by choice!
    Ted Wards
    27th Apr 2016
    2:44pm
    As has been pointed out its only processed packaged foods that contain gluten. Maybe you should look at your diet and see how you can eliminate these costly items and stick to fresh produce, make your own sauces etc.
    Franky
    27th Apr 2016
    3:58pm
    No way should gf food be subsidized - where do you stop? Health is individual responsibility and of anything we should get better education in schools on the importance of diet and health. This would save the government lots down the track and make for a more productive and healthy society. Of course that wouldn't suit big pharma.
    CarolAT
    27th Apr 2016
    6:11pm
    Franky, agreed but how do people make healthy choices when the government is funded by both big sugar and big pharma. There is a lot of money to be made from ill health and disabilities which include coeliac's disease and diabetes. Remember how this government tried to stop the green, amber, red labelling to make it easier to see what foods were really 'healthy' and/or 'natural'. The argument was that food labelling laws in Australia are already sufficient..try telling that to a diabetic when it's all in the fine print (miniature font)..white writing on a lime green background making the labelling all but invisible.
    KSS
    27th Apr 2016
    8:17pm
    CarolIAT its a lot easier than most people think to make healthy choices. You shop the perimeter of the supermarket and stay out of the aisles. Don't buy anything in crinkley packets and don't eat anything that your Great Grandmother wouldn't recognise. And it doesn't have to be expensive either, buy in season and cheaper cuts of meat. bring back the cooking skills our parents had.

    If people did that it wouldn't matter what was on the labels because they wouldn't be buying anything with a label.

    I agree with Franky. People must take responsibility for their own health and their own choices.
    Anonymous
    29th Apr 2016
    10:01am
    Yes, many people don't want to take responsibility for their help and want the easy way out, as well as to be able to blame someone else. But, equally, I also think we, humans, shouldn't set us up to fail – processed foods should be more expensive, and wholefoods much cheaper.
    tactful
    27th Apr 2016
    7:38pm
    Absolutely not. People with coeliac disease suffer as a result of gluten. Those who produce gluten free food are simply cashing in on a coeliac suffers medical condition.
    To force an extra charge onto the whole population to subsidise the cost for a few is neither fair nor equitable.
    When you know a coeliac sufferer, you know they much prefer to make their own food as they are then certain there is no gluten, which is not the case in prepared goods.
    KSS
    27th Apr 2016
    8:27pm
    I'm not sure I agree about food companies cashing in on coeliac sufferers at all. Its more they are encouraging those who are not sick to jump on the latest bandwaggon and fad diet. Afterall, its only because of the growth in numbers of people (needlessly) eliminating gluten from their diet that a demand for these fake products has arisen. Had this not happened, coeliacs would not have the range of gluten free products there is now because it would have been too expensive to produce such small quantities. Notice that there is an ever increasing range of the obvious products such as bread, cakes and biscuits but far fewer in the condiment line. Why? Because those simply following the fad don't care whereas coeliacs and others with a genuine medical problem have to eliminate ALL gluten even from hidden sources. And this group is far smaller than sales of gluten free bread would suggest.
    Teddyboy.
    27th Apr 2016
    7:41pm
    Too many people claim to be coeliacs when they are not. Only on a Dr's prescription and even then it's dodgy.
    Anonymous
    27th Apr 2016
    9:17pm
    Spot in Teddyboy.
    WideBayMike
    27th Apr 2016
    9:41pm
    I'm gluten and dairy free due to my psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
    Anonymous
    29th Apr 2016
    9:58am
    Curious to know WideBayMike: has it helped?
    MmtuMoja
    28th Apr 2016
    4:31pm
    Gluten free processed foods are every bit as bad for you as junk food. They are mostly high GI, too much sugar, too much fat. So highly processed foods like biscuits, ready meals should be avoided or used only as treats(as in any "normal" diet). It might be appropriate to offer assistance with staples such as bread, flour, pasta, oats which are gluten free certified. I eat gluten free (and am halfway to my goal of losing 50Kg as a result). My diet comprises fresh veg, fruit, eggs, tofu, fish, some dairy and legumes - pulses are cheap, gluten free, high in protein, low GI and most can be ground and used to make gluten free breads.
    Anonymous
    29th Apr 2016
    9:57am
    That's definitely the way to go MmtuMoja! I eat very minimal gluten and have a diet that consists of the same items as you.
    Buy Aussie.
    29th Apr 2016
    10:07am
    Possibly, however there are 10 times more ppl suffering diabetes and pre diabetes. Would be a fair thing if they were able to source cheaper food.

    29th Apr 2016
    8:11pm
    No, I dont think the taxpayers should subsidise.
    ekbg2002
    30th Apr 2016
    8:13am
    Okay. I wrote comment below.
    Yes stupid people going gluten free are doing their body harm, diet is NOT good.

    Three people here have medically Dx coeliac disease.

    One is diabetic type one, brittle, had transplant and this is not self induced diabetes but auto immune disease had 40 plus years. Always weighs carbs to insulin ratio to exercise. Low GI foods are nigh impossible if also coeliac causing further medical problems. He weighs 52 kg. I am 47 kg have neurodegen condition, unable to swallow well, try finding gf food easy to swallow. Other person is 52 kg also. None of us overweight.

    I used to cook everything from scratch.....before I was Dx with neuro condition, sadly I can no longer do much at all, let alone cook!

    Desperate for low Gi bread for diabetic type 1, insulin, transplant, coeliac is impossible.

    Best found thus far and high in Gi but lowest costs $14 loaf! His blood sugars go up to 10, transplant has to work harder causing further health probs. He refuses to eat anything other than healthy food, no fat, blah blah. He limits what he eats.

    So yes you are all right in making from scratch BUT if you can't because of your own health or if in aged care facility you are stuffed!

    So if you can cook from scratch be grateful you can! One day you may not be able too as has happened to us.

    Yes diabetes educators, dietitians, nutritionists will all say it's a problem.yes we see them all, they have no solution.

    Not only when I was able to cook gluten free, which can be challenge, more so when dealing with diabetic type one as you aim low Gi, weigh every ingredient, calculate the amount of carbohydrate for each ingredient, then total and divide by serves. That is not easy.

    If he has scoop Icecream scales out, it is weighed. Anything with carb is weighed and calculated.

    Labels with carb content on most products are good, many are WRONG. They change an ingredient ie rice flour to Busan flour, and don't change label.

    Yes manufacturers are making a wonderful profit. Yes many foods are gluten free that ARE NOT in health aisle. As we age are you going to be able to read the ingredient lis with Bright lights in supermarkets, shiny paper, small writing?

    Eating a crumb of gluten causes hours of both ends within exactly two hours of eating. For diabetic this is dangerous, for me, other implications.

    Either govt come down hard on gf manufacturers. Our grocery bills when I was cooking were horrendous! And I was savvy to the normal gluten free. Or we follow UK with scripts for staples only pasta, bread, etc

    Saddest of all is vaccine trials which appear to work which will mean coeliacs won't need gluten free diet as our MEDICINE, receive little funding from govt.

    Who is profiteering? Not us and we didn't get these illnesses from abuse of our bodies. We were Dx with illnesses, and it costs more than prescriptions for those who abuse their body and get sick! This irks me.

    Rant over.
    Jamtart98
    1st Jun 2016
    4:10am
    I,ve just stumbled on this topic while trawling the internet to find out which countries Governments do assist people on strict gluten free diets.
    First Up....CELIAC DISEASE IS AN ILLNESS. For some it may be a diet fad but for people who suffer from gluten intolerance it is essential that they follow a strict G/F diet.

    Bread is a staple food item and to the people who say they avoid bread completely ....what do you eat as an alternative?

    Make your own you say? Opinions are divided whether Bread making machines are useful or not. I,ve tried making my own by hand using G/F flour and it was a disaster!!!
    I bake many cakes an biscuits with G/F flour and reduce the amount of sugar listed in the recipes. 95% of the time they turn out successfully.

    I should point out I live in the South of Spain after emigrating from the UK 15 years ago.
    I have tried using Cornflour and Rice flour but results are not good. Therefore I have to make a 200 km round trip to Gibraltar to buy a bulk supply of G/F flour from a UK Chain supermarket.

    My brother in Scotland suffers badly should he unwittingly eat something containing gluten and he is very careful with what he eats.
    In Scotland Celiacs can obtain a FREE prescription from their doctor which then entitles them to complete a form in a pharmacy where they can choose up to 15 items from a list of 8 types of bread, 2 types of bread mix to make your own,4 different types of bread rolls,4 types of flour, 12 varieties of pasta, 2 types of pizza bases, and 2 types of breakast cereals.ALL FREE!!!
    In Italy Celiac sufferers receive Government assistance of 130 euros a month. Other countries also give assistance on a smaller scale.

    In hospitals Celiac patients receive a G/F menu.

    Here in Spain Celiac awareness is becoming more prevailant with more restaurants offering a G/F menu and/or G/F items on the regular menu. Still not on a large scale though.
    A few supermarkets stock G/F items but as expressed by others they are very expensive. i.e. A normal sliced loaf of Bread which used to last me nearly a week costs around 80 cts. The cheapest sliced loaf of G/F bread by comparison costs 2.50 euros. Depending weight and manufacturer they can cost up to 4 euros. Most G/F products carry the same high prices in comparison with the regular produce.

    Manufacturers who make normal products and also G/F products claim high prices are due to having to have seperate areas for baking where cross contamination does not occur.
    Manufacturers specialising in G/F products claim costs are high due to the high cost of G/F products used in baking.

    So in summing up. A strict gluten free G/F diet as prescribed by Medics is NOT fad. It is a life saving diet.

    I repeat....Celiac Disease is an ILLNESS and in my opinion financial assistance should be given by Governments since a weekly shop can be minimum 25% more than shopping for regular items.

    Alcoholics and Drug addicts receive free treatment for what are SELF INDUCED "illnesses" so why should Celiacs be any different?????