2005N-0279 Food Labeling; Gluten-Free Labeling of Foods; Public Meeting
FDA Comment Number : EC107
Submitter : Dr. Claudia Gentry-Weeks Date & Time: 08/19/2005 09:08:32
Organization : Colorado State University
Category : Individual Consumer
Issue Areas/Comments
I greatly appreciate the opportunity to comment on "Gluten-Free Labeling of Foods". I commonly read that as many as 1:250 people actually have celiac disease in the U.S. and I am glad that it is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Since I was diagnosed 7 years ago, 3 of my cousins, and a niece and nephew have been diagnosed with celiac disease. My grandmother died of intestinal cancer at a very young age and I suspect that she had celiac disease.

As a consumer and person with celiac disease, I strongly recommend that food labeled gluten-free be produced only with ingredients that contain no gluten and are produced in a facility that is restricted to only gluten-free products. Since celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, any gluten in foods will cause an inflammatory reaction. Repeated reactions can result in intestinal lymphoma and a variety of symptoms that I would prefer not to experience. That is why it is critical for food to be labeled accurately.

I would like to be able to identify foods that contain gluten by their label, however, since this is not reliable (i.e. some foods contain "natural flavors" (whatever that is), and "spices" or do not indicate wheat as an ingredient), I typically eat only fresh fruits and vegetables or call companies and ask them if their products are gluten-free or use a resource available from a support group that lists products that are gluten-free. When I was diagnosed 7 years ago, it took me hours to shop for groceries as I had to check all of the labels. Now I just eat the same foods over and over or order products from specialty suppliers of gluten-free foods to be safe. I don't take chances with my health - if you don't have your health you don't have anything.

All of the foods that I purchase for my consumption are gluten-free. I buy a minimal amount of foods for my family such as cereal, spaghetti, cookies, and pizza that are not gluten-free because they do not like the taste of most of the gluten-free products that I eat. I rarely bake foods.

Gluten-free labeling on a product definitely influences my decision to purchase a product. One company, Dannon (yogurt), told me that their products were "gluten-friendly" or some such ridiculous phrasing - I find that insulting and will never buy their products - who would trust labeling like that? What exactly does "gluten-friendly" mean? I don't think of gluten as being friendly. Food is either gluten-free or not - I am actually surprised that this concept is even being discussed. Having a little gluten is like being a little pregnant. If you suffer from the symptoms of celiac disease you would definitely understand that. I would even appreciate it if companies would label foods as "contains wheat" (like they do for peanuts), because this would really be a big improvement. Also, why do companies have to add so many artificial ingredients anyway? I see a trend towards the public buying foods with minimal additives and ingredients and the natural foods markets are doing a booming business. And I totally support this "less additive" approach by shopping at these markets and growing my own vegetables.

Thank you for considering these comments. I have 1 birth child and 2 foster children and I really want to be able to be healthy and watch them grow up. Please consider this when you make your decisions about what gluten-free food is.

Claudia Gentry-Weeks, 47 years old, diagnosed with celiac disease in 1998.