Thursday, January 21, 2010

State of North Carolina: Bread sold as gluten-free wasn't

Just a quick update on this topic from today's News & Observer. If you are not aware, the NC Department of Agriculture has filed a lawsuit against Great Specialty Products for selling/marketing regular bread as Gluten Free.

Click here to read the lawsuit.

If you were poisoned by this company and have not already spoken with the NC Department of Agriculture, please give them a call ASAP @ (919) 733.7366 to have your information added to the case.

You should also contact Anne Brown @ (919) 716.6891 or John Corne @ (919) 716.6869 at the NC Attorney General Office.

UPDATE 4PM 1/21/2010
A 10 day temporary restraining order was issued (and consented to by the defendant) at today's hearing. Another hearing will be held on February 1st during which the NC Dept. of Ag. will be seeking a Preliminary Injunction against the defendant from selling fraudulent Gluten Free products. I think evidence and witnesses may be presented at the next hearing. The case may also be taken to the point where a Permanent Injunction is sought.

Click here to read the TRO document.

What does this all mean?
Basically, at a high level, it means that the state of North Carolina is enforcing Gluten Free product claims/labeling (via fraud) when the FDA won't. It's great to know that our state is actively protecting it's citizenry, especially Celiacs who are often left fighting for themselves at every turn. I've not heard of a previous case of this nature anywhere in the country.

Also, be sure to tune into NBC 17 news tonight at 6pm and 7pm for a story on this topic as well as more from the N&O. You may also be seeing some more from the national Celiac organizations at some point in the near future. I think this case will be held up as a standard across the USA as a warning to con-artists and folks interested in making money at the hands of the hot Gluten Free market. You have been warned.

UPDATE 8AM 1/22/2010
The News & Observer has an update on the situation here.

If you missed the 6pm and 7pm NBC17 news broadcast, the link to that story and video is here.

UPDATE 2PM 1/22/2010
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) has picked up on the story. Click here for more.

UPDATE 1/25/2010
WRAL picked up on the story, read their article here.

Great Specialty is run out of a house on Cardinal Lake Drive in Durham, said Brian Long, a spokesman for the agriculture department. He said the company didn't bake its own bread but purchased items from bakeries and packaged and sold them under its own label, claiming the products were gluten-free.
Also, the next hearing will be held at 10am on Tuesday, February 2nd 2010 at the Wake County Courthouse in Downtown Raleigh, Courtroom 5B.

UPDATE 1/26/2010
Click here to see the Ingredients statements and here for Product list presented to customers by defendant.

UPDATE 2/1/2010
A new article from the News & Observer discussing the reaction from the Gluten Free community to this case.

UPDATE 2/2/2010
Click here for the recap of the Preliminary Injunction hearing where Great Specialty Products was shut down.

I'll post any updates here as they come in...

19 comments:

Fred said...

Zach - it is great that you were able to be there in person. Thanks so much for the update and everything you have done in this case.

Sherry said...

I purchased an order just before Thanksgiving. Our family has 4 gluten intolerant members, one Celiac. We all loved the breads and bagels. I do not live in the area but was going to Raleigh for the Christmas holidays and so I placed another order. The day before delivery ( Dec 21 ), Paul called me and told me he had just discovered that morning that the bakery he was using had recently started baking wheat products. He asked if we wanted to cancel our order since he was in the process of trying to assess the contamination risks, We cancelled the order. ( 5000 parts per million that the lab test showed is not cross contamination.) I feel terrible that I may have fed my Celiac daughter gluten for a week at Thanksgiving. She took bread back with her to college. She was ill some that week but she is Bipolar also so I did not link the bread to her illness. Paul Seelig is very believable, but so are con men. It will be interesting to see if the investigation can uncover whether the products were ever gluten free or if wheat flour was used from the beginning.

Sherry Eason

Lauren said...

I never did get around to purchasing any bread. However, I e-mailed Paul to ask why "Jewish Rye Bread" was an item when rye is not gluten free. Still have the e-mail with his explanation. Sherry's right, he's very believable...but so are con men. Very true.

C Claiborne said...

While I placed two orders and enjoyed every bit of each one over a peiod of a couple of months and suffered no ill effects, I must admit that there was a certain flair of the con man in all of our dealings. The ingredients to each of his breads were available on his web site (and may still be) but clearly they would have been capable of fabrication if the whole mess was fabtricated.

Rebecca said...

Sherry and Lauren - would you mind contacting the attorney working on the case and giving them the information you've shared here? These are both new stories and new pieces of evidence that would be VERY useful in the case.

You can reach attorney Anne Brown at (919)716-6891. The trial begins Monday (I'll be testifying then) and any additional information that you can get to them within the next day or two would be immensely helpful. Lauren, that email would be especially good for them to enter into the record. And Sherry, the story he gave you is different from two other versions of where the gluten "contamination" came from. So I urge you both to please take a few minutes to add your information to the records.

Lauren said...

Rebecca, I just left Anne Brown a voicemail, hopefully she will give me a call back soon!

Lee said...

Does anyone know if these bagels have wheat in them? I'm wheat intolerant but have been eating them like crazy with no reaction- the blueberry and asiago ones. I can handle gluten but now I'm wondering if maybe it's all in my head even though for years I've been sick when I was unknowingly served wheat. Anybody?

Sherry said...

The ingredient list does not show any wheat. We just do not know if we can believe the ingredient list or anything else Paul Seelig says or publishes. The bread was really good. I am glad we only ate the one order. My daughter did get really sick for a couple of days while she was consuming the bread. I still do not know it was the bread. She really screwed up an exam in grad school when she was sick that week. She has to repeat that class.

Sherry said...

Any more news on the disposition of the case? Was the hearing postponed on Monday?

Rebecca said...

Lee - They seem to just be regular wheat bagels, yes.

C Claiborne said...

Lee-Gee I dunno. I tried the bagels with no problem, I tried the white, "wheat" and "rye" bread with no problem (twice) then I got scared and quit eating them. Recently I got an old box of Chex cereal and ate one bowl and I was sick before I saw it had no gluten label. Go figure!

Zach said...

@C Claiborne - are you a diagnosed Celiac?

C Claiborne said...

Yes, As of May 2009 diagnosed. Suffering probably 10 years before.

Sherry said...

Where did the bagels come from? I did not see any on the Tribeca Oven site?

Rebecca said...

C Claiborne - One thing that researchers have told us is that gluten reactions are highly transient. What happens to you one time doesn't have any real predictive value over what happens the next. For my own son, his first major exposure made his upper GI bleed and turned his stools totally black within a few days. This more recent exposure, just a year later, led first to a rash and then weeks of mucus-filled stools but no blood. There's no telling why you might react horribly once and mildly (or not at all) another time. We only know that for celiacs, even "latent celiacs" who have no outward symptoms, every gluten exposure is physically harmful.

Sherry - I posted an explanation about the bagels on the comments for the Preliminary Injunction page, but basically they said at the hearing that he was getting the Tribeca Ovens bread (and we assume the Bindi desserts, various other items, and bagels) from a wholesale distributor (who carried multiple brands) out of Virginia. I didn't catch the name but it was just three letters long.

C Claiborne said...

Thanks Rebecca. I suspect I will spend the rest of life learning about this affliction.

cindy said...

I too bought from GSP. Met him at the fair, bought breads & bagels. Placed 2 more orders and when I mentioned to him about going to the bakery and getting my order he said, "NO" that I could not get past security. I feel that we all need to be reimbursed for our purchases. He lied and took our money~that is stealing!!!! I have my receipts. Also, does he claim his money on his taxes? He needs to pay up to us innocent people!

Rebecca said...

cindy,
at the risk of sounding like a broken record :)

Anyone who would like to add to the Department of Agriculture complaint file and work with the Attorney General's office and the State to get civil and criminal charges pressed against this guy is welcomed to email me at thegfcfcookbook@gmail.com and I will pass along the email addresses and phone numbers for who to contact.

I am also working on a list of people who may be interested in joining together for a class action lawsuit, on the off chance that the civil and criminal cases don't pan out to anything significant.

From what we can ascertain, Paul Seelig seems to have a history of using litigation to get funds from large businesses (including Walmart) to plump up his own bank account. If that is truly the case, I'm tempted to give him a taste of his own medicine... and pass the proceeds along to one of the big celiac foundations.

C Claiborne said...

GSP made it onto Celiac.Com. Nothing newsworthy, just seeing it as a further and further spreading story.

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