First of all, let me say that I'm so glad you found this post because many, many, many people seem to get confused with Rice Dream and its gluten-free status.
Here is the information.
Gluten Is Not an Ingredient, But It Is Used in the Processing
A barley (read: gluten) enzyme is used during the processing of Rice Dream. The barley (gluten) is not an ingredient. When the Rice Dream is done being processed, the barley (gluten) enzyme is thrown away. Again, the barley (gluten) is not an ingredient.
A Small Amount of Gluten May Remain in the Final Product
The Rice Dream company (Hain Celestial Group) states that "the final beverage might contain a minute residual amount (less than .002%) of barley protein." [Source: Rice Dream website as of July 18, 2008, click HERE to read]
So...we know that there could be "less than .002%" of gluten in your box of Rice Dream. But what does that mean?
0.002% = 0.00002 = 20/1,000,000 = 20 parts per million ("ppm")
Okay, so we know that your box of Rice Dream may contain "less than 20 parts per million" of gluten.
But . . . Is That Gluten-Free?
Well, it is and it isn't. It depends on your definition of "gluten-free."
DEFINITION #1: If "gluten-free" means FREE OF GLUTEN, as in "NO GLUTEN," then, NO, Rice Dream is NOT gluten-free.
DEFINITION #2: If "gluten-free" means "less than 20 parts per million of gluten," then, YES, Rice Dream IS gluten-free.
The Government's Definition
Currently, as of July 18, 2008, there is NO Federal definition of "gluten-free."
But, the Government has proposed a definition of "gluten-free." On January 23, 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition proposed a definition of "gluten-free" [Source: 72 FR 2795, click HERE to read]. In its Proposed Rule, the FDA proposed that a product could be labeled "gluten-free" if it had less than 20 parts per million of gluten. (The proposed rule includes other criteria, but since we are talking about the Rice Dream issue, I will only discuss this one.)
So Is Rice Dream Gluten-Free or Not?
According to the FDA's proposal, if finalized as is, Rice Dream would be considered to be "gluten-free" even though the company knows and publicly states that there may be barley (gluten) in the product. According to the FDA, the Hain Celestial Group would NOT be "misbranding" their product if they called it "gluten-free."
But Here's the Problem . . .
Simply put, that "less than 20 parts per million" of barley (gluten) may be too much for your child. Indeed, many, many parents across the country have reported (on online forums) that their child does react negatively to the residual barley (gluten) in Rice Dream. Specifically, they note things like diarrhea and regression.
So, What Should I Do?
YOU need to make the decision of what you do next, based on the definition of "gluten-free" that YOU want to use in your house.
If You Are Using Rice Dream Now . . .
If you are currently using Rice Dream and are not seeing the progress on the GFCF diet that you had hoped for, or if you are even seeing regression, you might be witnessing the power of what 20 parts per million of gluten can do to our kids. A wise course of action at this point would be to completely remove the Rice Dream from your child's diet for a specific period of time (1 week? 2 weeks? a month?) and see what happens. If you start to see improvements, then you have your answer. Go find a different milk substitute.
If You Are Not Using Rice Dream But Are Considering It . . .
If you are not currently using Rice Dream but are thinking that you want to give it a try, then please keep good notes of when you introduce it into your child's diet and keep track of what reactions you see. Again, if you notice regressions, or if you see some improvements but a few months down the road feel like you're not seeing what you want to be seeing, try removing the Rice Dream and see what happens.
I truly, truly hope this was helpful and easy to understand. PLEASE link to this post from your blogs/websites if you think others might find it useful.
In the meantime, I will try to find out the current status on the FDA's Proposed Rule, and when it becomes a Final Rule, I will post about it and will do some sort of analysis on what it means.
To see how a definition can impact the information you receive from a company, click HERE.
UPDATE - UPDATE - UPDATE
On May 29, 2009, I re-checked the Rice Dream website. It still says, "Although Rice Dream Beverage is processed using a barley enzyme, the barley enzyme is discarded after use. The final beverage might contain a minute residual amount (less than .002%) of barley protein."