The Lobby That Took the Cake

in Gwen Smith: From the Editor's Desk
Published: May 10, 2011

Hats off to the organizers of 1 in 133, the Gluten-Free Food Labeling Summit held May 4, 2011. In a matter of weeks, John Forberger, the gluten-free triathlete (@GlutenFreeTri) and Jules Shepard (@theGFJules) managed to gather hundreds of supporters in Washington for the impressive summit.

The purpose? To send the message to the Food and Drug Administration that those living with celiac disease were sick and tired of waiting for a clear and reliable labels on gluten-free foods.

The fact is, people are getting sick and tired – and bloated, and brain-fogged, and extreme gastrointestinal symptoms and worse – from eating foods that claim to be “gluten-free” but really aren’t.

Sure some food makers have gone to great lengths to test and be responsible. (We love you guys.) But others? They’ve just jumped on the bandwagon, trying to cash in on gluten-free popularity without testing foods to meet standards. That’s because, of course, there are still no standards in the U.S.

It was not meant to be this way. Under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), the FDA was supposed get moving on defining a standard for what constitutes gluten-free. But four years after that process started? Still nothing, nada.

The message of those at the labeling summit: Change has simply got to come. Afterall, this issue affects the daily lives of millions with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Message in a Gluten-Free Cake

But here’s the cool part about the two advocates and their summit. They got across their message in Washington – not with placards or shouting but – with cake.

A GF cake, to be specific. And not just a measly little round or rectangle. Jules Shepard is an accomplished baker and gluten-free entrepreneur (she even markets her own line of GF flour), so our creative lobbyists decided to build that behemoth you saw in our newsletter.

All day on May 4, Jules, John and their helpers built and frosted, and Jules dangled off a ladder to frost and pipe some more. The result was a cake that weighed in at a ton and stood over 11 feet.

But the best part? Their imaginative public relations work, their petition with thousands of signatures and their social media efforts were noticed by those with the power to effect change. Michael Taylor, the FDA deputy commissioner of foods, made a surprise appearance at the summit and spoke encouraging words.

As Taylor told NBC in an interview earlier that day: “I want people to understand that the FDA gets it.” “We’re on this. We’ll get this moving.”

He said that in a matter of weeks, the proposed standard would be out for public comment.

Let’s hope so. We’ll all be watching and eagerly anticipating. And if the FDA does not get its act together on GF labeling? Well it had better watch out for the next moves from Forberger and Shepard. Afterall, you don’t want to mess with a triathlete and a baker with the stamina to frost, on a ladder, for hours and hours. They just aren’t going to give up.