Defining "Gluten-Free"

Oregon has weirdly become ground-zero in the battle over what it means for a beer to be "gluten-free."  It seems pretty obvious, doesn't it?--no gluten.  As always, the meaning of words depends on which lawyers you consult (pdf):
[The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)] has also received inquiries from brewers and importers who wish to make label claims about the gluten content of malt beverages fermented from malted barley and other gluten-containing grains. In these cases, industry members claim that they have used various processes to remove most of the gluten from their products, and that the remaining gluten is at low levels (usually below 10 ppm). It also has been suggested that the distillation of mashes fermented from grains containing gluten in the production of distilled spirits products removes most of the gluten from such products. Finally, other products may be crafted in a manner that significantly reduces the gluten content of the finished products.

Despite the contention of several industry members that some currently available tests can measure the gluten content of malt beverage products, pending the issuance of a final rule by FDA, TTB takes the position that these methods cannot be used to substantiate a specific claim about the gluten content of products fermented or distilled from gluten-containing grains, such as “gluten-free” or “x ppm gluten,” because the methods have not yet been scientifically validated to accurately measure the gluten content of fermented products. [Bolding mine]
This matters, because the newest, most high-profile entrant to the world of gluten-free brewing is Omission, from Craft Brewers Alliance, made from regular barley with regular barley malt by removing gluten during the brewing process.  Smaller players like Harvester (who instantly sent out a press release touting the ruling) make beer with grains that start gluten free, and stand to gain a lot by how the government defines this beer category.

Interestingly, it's not the TTB that has final say in this, but the FDA.  And the FDA is currently considering wording that would define "gluten-free" in this narrow sense (the agency doesn't believe it's possible to accurately test for the presence of gluten), with language that seems to be directed right at Omission:
FDA proposes to define the term "gluten-free" to mean that a food bearing this claim in its labeling does not contain any one of the following:
  • An ingredient that is derived from a prohibited grain and that has been processed to remove gluten, if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food
Of course, that 20 ppm standard is what Omission has targeted--and to be fair, is the European standard.

So there you have it.  I am wholly ignorant of the science in the debate--is any gluten too much?, can you measure gluten accurately?--but it seems like some people with Celiac disease favor the more liberal ruling.  It'll be interesting to watch this develop.