Yesterday, the 2011 Gluten Free Food Labeling Summit met in Washington DC to protest the FDA's inaction on the issue of gluten free food labeling standards with a 15-foot tall, one-ton gluten free cake. The proposed standard was due in 2008 as a follow-up to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004, but the law has still not changed.
After several years and thousands of unacknowledged letters to the FDA, the Summit was founded by leading members of the Celiac community, "to draw attention to the FDA's inaction, and to galvanize the burgeoning gluten-free community, leading members of this community will host Capitol Hill legislators, noted celiac disease researchers, gluten-free community leaders and food corporations". Yesterday morning, Mike Taylor, the FDA deputy commissioner for foods, commented to ABC News on his way to the Summit that "we really understand that there's a big population out there and this is really a serious problem for them, and labeling can help and we want to do our part... I want people to understand that the FDA gets it," Taylor explained, "We're on this. We'll get this moving."
Summit co-founder and cookbook author, Jules Shepard, developed her own flour blend after being diagnosed with Celiac disease at age 29. On the subject of labeling, she said, "It's not fair that we don't know what's in those foods."
Oh and the cake? Seen below, was assembled from 180 half-sheet cakes produced by the Whole Foods Markets Gluten Free Bakehouse in Morrisville, N. Carolina using Jules Gluten Free Flour and symbolizes "how much their lives depend upon strictly avoiding a protein found in most bakery goods, pasta, beer and even some cold cuts and salad dressings" writes Jane Allen for ABC, and that protein is gluten.
The group organizing the Summit, 1 in 133, derives their name from the startling statistic that 1 in every 133 Americans has Celiac disease, a life-threatening auto-immune disease triggered by the ingestion of gluten, a protein in wheat, barley and rye. Of the 3 million people in the United States who are thought to have Celiac disease, only approximately 300,000 have been correctly diagnosed. Recent estimates indicate that as many as 18 million Americans are gluten sensitive.
Currently, there are no laws governing the labeling of gluten free foods in the United States. Companies can voluntarily seek certification from the Celiac Sprue Association (CSA) or the Gluten Intolerance Group's Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO) that products contain less than 10 parts per million (ppm) of gluten - far more restrictive than the European Codex which labels products gluten free if they contain less than 20 ppm of gluten. Companies who do not choose certification label their products based on their own good-faith standard - hardly a standard at all - a loophole which allowed Paul Seelig to knowingly poison gluten free consumers in North Carolina. Other companies simply state "no gluten ingredients used", but what does that even mean?
While some companies are vague at best when it comes to labeling, others go to great lengths to ensure a gluten free environment. From guaranteeing a gluten free facility to regularly testing each product batch, many companies will happily provide evidence of gluten free certification upon consumer request. For example, Glutenfreeda Foods Inc. only sources gluten free ingredients and conducts continuous random batch-tests of their oatmeal, granola and frozen burritos/wraps to ensure that there are less than 5 ppm of gluten -- well below the suggested limit.