The Shortage of Gluten-Free Oats
- Due to oats shortages, if a product containing oats is not GFCO-certified gluten-free, there is a higher risk than ever before that it may contain unsafe levels of gluten.
- Farmers have been planting less oats and swapping them for more profitable crops like corn.
- Farmlands have been experiencing droughts leading to grasshopper infestations and fires.
- The popularity of oat milk has impacted oats supply, both raising prices and reducing the availability of high-quality oats used to produce gluten-free food products.
- These issues affect both Purity Protocol oats and mechanically sorted oats. (To understand the difference, see our article: Are Oats and Oat Flour Gluten-Free?)
The Shortage of Gluten-Free Oats
Several recent and ongoing agricultural events have resulted in crop shortages that may impact individuals eating gluten-free. Guided by our mission to make life easier for everyone living gluten-free, we will be publishing a series of reports on crop shortages that may directly affect the availability of gluten-free products, particularly ones certified by Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO).
If you are avoiding gluten in wheat, barley, and rye-based foods, you most likely consume alternative grains such as corn, rice, and oats. In this first report, we will focus on the shortage of oats and outline some of the conditions that have impacted the availability of high-quality oats used to make safe gluten-free food products. These issues affect both Purity Protocol oats and mechanically sorted oats. (To understand the difference, see our article: Are Oats and Oat Flour Gluten-Free?)
Here are some of the factors contributing to the shortage of oats, most of which have been evolving over several years.
Farmers are Planting Less Oats
In July 2021, Bloomberg News reported that there have been “years of falling oats acreage as U.S. grain growers swapped it out for more profitable crops such as corn.” A separate article in Bloomberg News mentioned additional alternative crops that are commanding higher prices and attracting oats farmers including canola, flax, lentils, and durum wheat. These shifts in farming can have a cumulative effect, resulting in high-quality oat shortages that have become more drastic over time.
Farmlands Experience Droughts Leading to Grasshopper Infestations
Not all impacts to oat production and supply are manmade. Environmental factors also impact the availability of high-quality oats, often resulting from the effects of climate change that are more destructive year to year. Last summer, Bloomberg News reported that drought conditions across the U.S. Plains would contribute to the smallest U.S. oat crop harvesting since 1866 — another sign that “abnormally hot and dry weather” was “taking a toll on food production.”
At the same time the United States has struggled with droughts that affect oats crop yield, Canada – our top supplier of oats outside the U.S. – has also experienced droughts and oat shortages. Oat supplies from Canada dropped off significantly over the past year, exacerbating the shortages in the U.S.
According to an article in The Guardian, the drought in 2021 also “created ideal conditions for grasshopper eggs to hatch and for the insatiable eaters to survive into adulthood.” Like other conditions that affect crops, grasshopper infestations did not happen overnight. According to the same article, grasshopper populations “began ballooning in spring 2020, thanks to warmer and drier winters that favored survival.”
The Popularity of Oat Milk Impacts Supply
Oats are in high demand for new products, like oat milk, and manufacturers are paying a premium for oats in high quantities. According to an article in Bloomberg News, oat milk sales have risen to account for 16% of non-dairy milk sales since 2017 – “more than soy, rice, and coconut milk combined and second only to almond milk.” (NielsenIQ)
Even with increased demand for oats, drought conditions have prevented farmers from capitalizing on higher returns, even for oat milk manufacturers. Manufacturers of oat products are forced to seek new sources of oat supplies to continue production, but not every new source can meet GFCO’s gluten-free standards.
How Do These Factors Affect You, The Gluten-Free Consumer?
Because of shortages, oats are being sourced from new suppliers, many of whom are overseas and in countries that may not adhere to the same food quality standards as the U.S. or Canada. Given the lack of quality control over new oats supplies, oat products produced during this shortage may or may not be safely gluten-free.
Gluten-free oats are culled from the highest quality kernels in the field, making them the most labor-intensive and expensive oat crop to harvest and process. Coupled with low supply has forced prices for high-quality oats up. When manufacturers are struggling to locate gluten-free oats from their normal suppliers, they are forced to look for new sources to meet demand.
While the FDA’s threshold for gluten-free status is less than 20 ppm of gluten, GFCO’s certification is more stringent at 10 ppm or less. This GFCO requirement ensures that both finished products and their individual ingredients meet the 10 ppm criteria to be awarded and maintain a GFCO certification. GFCO does not change its standard based on market conditions. Many brands GFCO has certified with oat-containing products are making major efforts to source safe oats to continue production. However, it is possible that your favorite oat-containing products will either be discontinued or reformulated to be made without the use of oats. When you cannot find your favorite staples, it could be an opportunity to try something new. Search the GFCO Product directory for inspiration.
The Bottom Line on Gluten-Free Oats
If a product containing oats is not GFCO-certified gluten-free, there is a higher risk than ever before that it may contain unsafe levels of gluten. If the product is GFCO-certified, the manufacturer has taken extra steps to ensure that product – and its ingredients – are safely gluten-free.
There is also the possibility that a GFCO-certified gluten-free oat product you have used in the past may temporarily be required to remove its GFCO-certification mark.
GIG’s recommendation is to avoid any oat-containing products that are not GFCO-certified.
The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.
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