The Food Safety Authority of Ireland plans to follow up on complaints about claims by St Patrick’s Distillery’s following last week’s launch of new products.
The claims, the FSAI said, are misleading and the company could be in breach of strict food-labelling laws.
The Cork-based artisan distillery said it was a common misconception that all gin and vodkas were gluten free.
The company said its spirits were distilled from certain varieties of potato and “guaranteed gluten free”. It spent 18 months and invested up to €200,000 developing the business, building a 2,500-litre capacity blending and bottling plant in the Woollen Mills in Douglas, creating five jobs in the process.
However, Niamh O’Connor, who runs Cork Nutrition, said she could not believe it when she read the company’s claims.
“It is an absolute indisputable fact that distilled spirits are gluten free, even if gluten-containing grains are used as a raw ingredient,” she said.
“They also refer to their new range of spirits as being lactose free which is quite bizarre as all spirits are naturally dairy free and lactose free.
“Whether or not this distillery is going after the coeliac market, they need to adhere to the legislation.”
A spokesperson for the FSAI said: “Under the Food Information for Consumers Regulation, the food information must not mislead the consumer by suggesting that the food possess special characteristics when, in fact, all similar foods (in this case, vodka and gin) possess such characteristics.
“Therefore, in essence, all gin and vodka products are gluten free so one cannot label their own product as “gluten free”.”
The Coeliac Society, which supports people with the food intolerance, described the claims from St Patrick’s Distillery as “unhelpful”.
“Wine, spirits, and cider are gluten free,” said the society’s Gráinne Denning.
“The recent claims by St Patrick’s Distillery are unhelpful to the coeliac community, adding unnecessary doubt to those adapting to a gluten-free diet for medical reasons.
“We would encourage manufacturers of gluten-free products to contact us for advice and information.”
St Patrick’s Distillery said that if something was made from wheat, it did not matter what you do with it, it was still made from wheat.
“Distillation is a wonderful process, but it’s not a miraculous transubstantiation,” said a spokesperson.