Opinions Aside, Why We Should Celebrate the FDA Gluten-Free Labeling Rule

September 4, 2013 at 10:00 pm Leave a comment

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) rule on gluten-free labeling is an accomplishment. Whether you fully support it or have several criticisms, this is a milestone that has been years in the making, and that deserves some celebration.

Let’s all take a moment to take a breath, consider what we’ve collectively achieved, and thank ourselves and each other for all the hard work that brought us here.

I was diagnosed with celiac disease over 20 years ago, and in the 10 years since the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) opened its doors, we have been working to improve the safety of gluten-free food.  I have been waiting day-after-day for the FDA to set a standard for gluten-free labeling, just as you have.  The moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here.

On August 2, 2013, the FDA ruling hit and I was ecstatic that NFCA could bring you the news.  Because this news, despite the mixed emotions among the gluten-free community, is huge.  You can imagine the feeling here at the office.  The news hit, there was a collective gasp through the office, followed by the sound of fingers pounding away on computer keyboards.  We’ve been waiting and we were ready.  We knew the rule would eventually come.  The question was when.

It took nine years.  But we did it.  All of us.  Every single member of the gluten-free community, whether you’ve been diagnosed for 20 years or 20 days.  We all played a role in getting the FDA to finalize a definition because people living with and affected by gluten-related disorders are not a small minority of people.  By speaking up together, we’ve proven that this community is large and we have a big voice. The final rule means that the gluten-free community has been heard.

“Gluten-free” has made headlines over the past few years because of the fad diet.  But, when the FDA ruled on that Friday, celiac disease went right alongside the words “gluten-free.”  The media took notice of the autoimmune disease and the reason the gluten-free diet exists in the first place.  The ruling and its implications for people with celiac disease have been in The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the front page of Yahoo!, MSN… the list goes on. That itself is something to celebrate.

I have seen the comments, questions and concerns from all of you on social media, listservs and blogs.  Some of you are thrilled with the regulations, and others are worried.  NFCA is keeping track of these and we’re compiling them so we can tackle your questions.  We are actively working on a free webinar series and complementary fact sheets so we can break down the final rule and help you understand what it all means and how it’s going to affect your everyday life.  There is a lot to this ruling and let’s be honest; some of it is downright confusing.  Just know that NFCA will get you all the information you need to make informed decisions concerning your health.  This rule is important to the staff here, too.  We’re also affected by gluten-related disorders.

For those of you who are concerned by the gluten-free labeling rule and its implications, your feelings are totally justified.  But, do take comfort in knowing there will still be certified gluten-free products, and the naturally gluten-free products we eat regularly are just the same.  While the FDA has not required manufacturers to test their products to ensure they contain less than 20 ppm of gluten, there is now an accountability system in place.  By putting “gluten-free” on a package, manufacturers inherently agree to meet the FDA standards and, with an official definition, they will be held accountable if the products fail to meet those standards.  It’s up to us to remain diligent and continue to advocate for our own health.

Keep asking questions. Voice your concerns.  Continue to tell manufacturers what we as a gluten-free community need from them. It is the persistence of the gluten-free community that pushed this ruling in the first place. There’s more work to be done, and while the FDA rule is a key milestone, you can count on NFCA and all of the celiac disease patient advocacy organizations to continue pushing for better options, greater safety, wider education and more research.  We’re just getting started!

So, as we dissect, discuss and debate the gluten-free labeling rule, let’s also take a minute to step back and appreciate what we’ve accomplished.  We have come a long way since the days of having to special order gluten-free food, and that’s a testament to our strength.  I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the free resources being developed now by NFCA to explain this ruling.  To continue this progress, we need to understand the new standards.  Whether we realize it or not, we as consumers do play a major role in shaping policy.

Let’s celebrate!  Our voices have been heard and that means we as a community have power. Together, we can continue to make changes.  We will make things better.

Alice Bast
President
National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA)

NFCA welcomes your comments and questions on the FDA Gluten-Free Labeling Rule.  E-mail them to webinars@celiaccentral.org. Your questions and comments will guide the development of our webinar series and other free educational resources that explain the FDA rule.  For the current resources, visit www.CeliacCentral.org/fda.

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