Paul Seelig, owner of the Great Specialty Products bread company in Durham, NC, has been jailed, his business closed, his website pulled and he is facing six felony counts for obtaining property by false pretense for selling bread he claimed was gluten free, when in fact it contained high amounts (>5,000 ppm) of gluten.
What’s even more incredible is that the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services brought the charges against Mr. Seelig. The State of North Carolina is prosecuting a business owner for using the term gluten-free to define a bread product that contained high amounts of gluten, while the FDA has not taken the time to define the term gluten yet. They stopped the sale of the bread after numerous complaints had been received and investigated the company. They protected those of us on the gluten-free diet from being poisoned by someone who was trying to make a quick buck on what has been coined as a ‘fad diet’ by the media.
For the newly diagnosed people out there who mistakenly believe that seeing a product marked as gluten free means it is safe this is a shocking case. This case is particularly frustrating because Mr. Seelig was allegedly repackaging gluten bread from Tribecca Oven Company and applying a gluten-free label. Thank goodness the State of North Carolina stood up for its gluten-free residents in this precedent-setting case.
There are a number of companies out there who test their products for gluten and there are others who work with certification services, like GFCO and the Celiac Sprue Association (CSA) who test their clients products for gluten and still there are the ones who have no idea if there products are cross contaminated during production, but will label them as gluten free because the ingredients don’t contain gluten.
Because the costs of owning a manufacturing line are so high, many companies use shared lines where cross contamination is a possibility. Even if a manufacturing line is cleaned between products, there is a possibility of cross contamination. A socially responsible company needs to test the finished products for gluten content before applying the label Gluten Free. Companies should also be testing the raw materials being used to be sure that their rice flour or tapioca starch, etc. are not contaminated with gluten prior to manufacturing the product.
Mr. Seelig is sitting in jail right now on $100,000 bond waiting for his hearing on the 24th. This Examiner is thrilled that no more of this gluten-containing bread is being sold and hopes that the FDA will take from this example the dire need to define the term gluten and set guidelines and regulations with enforceable consequences.
This case is bound to have an impact on the industry and our gluten-free community. One only hopes it is a positive impact that leads to a more thorough understanding of the gluten-free diet and the dangers associated with false manufacturing claims.
Special thanks to Zach at Gluten Free Raleigh for his thorough coverage of the case and his ability to keep the facts up-to-date.
Author Information: Jennifer D. Harris, Atlanta, GA
Jennifer D. Harris, http://www.jenniferglutenfreeingeorgia.blogspot.com/
Gluten-Free Product Specialist, Return to Eden.
Program Chair, Atlanta Metro Celiacs, www.atlantametroceliacs.org