Welcome to New Year’s Eve! We had a lot of significant news in the gluten-free and celiac world in 2013. Not just big momentary news, but news that will have an impact for years to come. You voted and I get my picks so here goes on my list of top stories of 2013.
Top Gluten Free Stories of 2013
We had nine stories on the list this year. We will cover the top five in the most detail. The bottom four were California Pizza Kitchen’s second try at gluten free pizza, GlutenFreely.com’s departure in the marketplace, the International Celiac Disease Symposium and the new Gluten Free Girl Scout Cookie.
Rounding out the Top 5 then:
#5. Celiac Sprue Association (CSA) gives Omission Beer its Recognition Seal
This happened just before Thanksgiving this year. When a news release with the headline, “Celiac Sprue Association Recognizes Omission Beer As Risk-Free For Celiacs”. Omission beer is made from barley. The makers of the beer say they have a process that removes the gluten so it tests below 20 ppm. But the feds say at this point, the company cannot make the gluten-free claim.
So when the CSA gave Omission Beer their seal, a lot of people became confused; including authors of follow up articles like this one entitled, “Good News for Celiacs, Barley-Based Beer gets Association’s Okay”. For clarity’s sake…barley-based beer (and anything else with barley in it) is still bad for people with celiac. So don’t let that headline confuse you into believing all barley-based beers are safe.
Other people in the gluten-free community became frustrated with the news, questioning the CSA’s motives. When I asked CSA executive director Mary Schluckebier about whether Omission paid CSA for this seal or has any other sponsorship agreement, Schluckebier said, “There is a fee structure for the CSA Recognition Seal Program. Our program has not changed, and in the program and 3-step Management Plan.” She did not discuss whether any other kind of payment existed.
Finally, about the announcement, Schluckebier said, “I apologize for not proofing my quote, I should have caught the errors.” She says she would rather have had the news release headline read “Omission Beer clearly meets our strict standards in qualifying for the CSA Recognition Seal”. “Our only agenda is what is best for those with celiac disease and other gluten related conditions,” Schluckebier said.
There is a quick read in the January Gluten Free Living magazine with more detail on the gluten-free testing methods for beer and other fermented products. For more information I would check that out.
This is a topic that incites the most passion from our gluten free readers. There were several moments in the media like TV news constantly doing the “Does going gluten free really make you lose weight?” stories (yup just saw one yesterday morning on CBS’s morning news show). But the ones that bring out the most frustration was the gaffe by Disney last May, and the pie-in-the-face joke by Jimmy Fallon.
Last May, the Disney Channel was getting ready to premiere an episode of Jessie. Some kids were able to see it early as an “On Demand” option. That is when Amy Raslevich’s kids who both have celiac disease saw the episode. “They are watching it….they got excited,” Raslevich told me. And when they saw how the gluten-free child was treated, “…you just saw the blood rush out of their faces and tears in their eyes.” She says it made her kids wonder if this is what other people thought about them.
What they saw were adults and kids being disrespectful of a sterotypical nerdy kid who needed to eat gluten-free. In the show, the adults rolled their eyes and one girl eventually threw gluteny pancakes at him. Raslevich started a petition at change.org asking Disney to pull the episode and stop using gluten-intolerant kids as excuse to bully. The gluten free community got behind her!
Disney eventually pulled the episode before it aired nationwide and said it would “re-evaluate references to gluten restrictions” for the character. For one survey participant said they chose the gluten free in the media subject as their number one choice because “it was the most important to me, not only for the gluten-free part of the story, but also the bullying impact. I was very disappointed in Disney.”
Fast forward to November when Late Night with Jimmy Fallon did a bit with a “guest” who had written a gluten free cookbook. Fallon threw the book in the garbage, called his “guest” garbage and then eventually threw a gluten-filled pie in his face. Click here to see the full article and the show clip. That also didn’t go over well. Comments on Fallon’s YouTube and Facebook pages lit up. One survey participant said they “lost all respect for Jimmy Fallon”. Another person summed it all up by saying “It’s clear we have a long ways to go, and this kind of bullying is indicative of where we stand.”
#3 Arsenic in Rice (FDA report)
The Food and Drug Administration issued a report in September on arsenic levels in rice. This was prompted by a Consumer Reports article on the same subject a full year earlier.
Arsenic, in general terms, is known as a human carcinogen. The FDA’s report mirrored the Consumer Reports article saying there are varying levels of arsenic found in rice. Brown rice (of course the healthier choice for us) had higher levels than white rice. The report not only looked at the rice you buy in the bag or box, but about the products that contain rice or rice flour in the list of ingredients– many of which are specifically targeted to the gluten free consumer! That is what makes this so alarming.
With rice being such a staple in our diets (whether as a side dish in a meal or perhaps it is an ingredient in a favorite mix you buy), we get it everywhere. So what does this mean for us? It remains to be seen. Click here to read more on the FDA’s investigation.
#2 US Department of Justice’s Settlement with Lesley University
This settlement actually happened in December 2012, but was announced in early January of this year. The settlement involved a $50,000 payout to the student(s) involved, plus the school had to make adjustments to many accommodations including adding ready-made gluten free meals, retaining vendors with gluten-free products, maintaining a gluten-free prep area (like to store a microwave, toaster, gluten free bread etc) for students and much more.
The Department of Justice spokesperson told me the agreement with Lesley University “will serve as a model for other schools—particularly those that require students to participate in a meal plan.” It is possible schools could exempt students from the mandatory meal plan if they cannot meet the dietary needs. This was part of the agreement with Lesley.
This is groundbreaking in many ways; it shows colleges and universities the gluten free diet needs to be taken seriously and they need to comply. Scott Lissner, president of the Association on Higher Education Awareness and Disability (AHEAD) , and ADA Coordinator at Ohio State University said to me when we talked last winter, that this settlement will not only lead to more college and university compliance, but also this could extend into extra-curricular activities, “Those things would be covered the same way the dining services would be covered… a lot of these activities surround food,” Lissner said. “I now need [to order] the second box of gluten-free pizza.”
Lissner also said, that while we don’t consider ourselves with celiac disabled, we may need to look at it that way when sending a child away to school. Going through the Disabilities Coordinator at a school could be more of an asset to get your gluten free needs met.
Elementary and secondary schools are also starting to take the necessary steps as well to accommodate the gluten-free diet.
#1 FDA’s new rule on voluntary gluten free labeling
This announcement was huge! American products overseen by the Food and Drug Administration will have to follow certain rules if they want to label a product gluten free.
This rule has been years in the making. It was a part of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. It said the FDA would have a voluntary rule in place for labeling gluten free foods by 2008. But that year came and went….and so did 2009 and 2010. But in 2011 a renewed awareness effort reminded the FDA the gluten free community didn’t forget about this. The FDA reopened the public comment and took it from there.
The announcement happened on August 2nd, 2013.
The basic requirements of the rule say, companies who want to label their products gluten free, must make sure their product is below 20 parts per million of gluten. There is much, much more to this and you can read it here. Bottom line, all compliance must be in place by August 5, 2014. For clarification– this rule does NOT require all companies to list their gluten status. It put these rules into place for companies who voluntarily want to label their products gluten free. Does this mean some companies may stop labeling their products gluten free? This also remains to be seen.
One late 2013 note came when the FDA updated it’s Q and A on the subject, specifically aimed at restaurants handling of gluten free foods and menus. The change on November 26th became more specific saying, “This [gluten free labeling] definition is intended to provide a reliable way for people with celiac disease to avoid gluten, and we expect that restaurants’ use of ‘gluten-free’ labeling will be consistent with the federal definition.” Just in case the restaurant industry didn’t think it was affected by this…well it now is.
I spoke with executive director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance, Andrea Levario about this and she said the ACDA is looking forward to helping restaurants who have any questions about meeting gluten free requirements. My question remains on this one too… Could restaurants do away with gluten free menus then?? We’ll find out soon enough.
Those are the top stories of 2013…I can’t wait to see what happens in 2014!
*One person who took the survey mentioned a topic they thought was missing: the immense popularity and impact of the books Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. Since the book Wheat Belly was published in 2011 it hadn’t been considered. However, it is having a ripple effect into 2013 (and spawned two cookbooks and a journal). Wheat Belly also helped with the popularity of the book Grain Brain which was published in 2013. So this is a good point from one of our readers and I wanted to acknowledge that here.