he may *look* harmless...

I wish this were an April Fools’, but…

There was a little blurb in my Google alerts yesterday about a North Carolina man who is on trial for selling gluten-containing bread that was labeled gluten-free.

At first I felt bad for the man; the blurb said he claimed his suppliers gave him false information and I imagined a singular cross-contamination issue gone horribly awry.

I was wrong. There is no reason to feel bad. This guy is – if 1/3 of the allegations are true – a wackadoo and a villain. If the trial goes as I imagine it will, he’ll also be a felon.

First, the facts:

In 2009 a company called Great Specialty Products brought their gluten-free Amish bread to the North Carolina State Fair. It tasted good – too good to be true. Lots of people got sick, as the bread was testing to over 5,000PPM gluten (remember, the generally-accepted threshold to label food as gluten-free in the US is 20PPM).

North Carolina government got involved and brought, “9 felony cases of Receiving Property under False Pretenses against the bakery owner, Paul Seelig,” according to the Gluten-Free Raleigh blog.

The state shut the company down, put up a hefty bail against Seelig and appointed him a lawyer in light of his financial situation. He was expected to take a plea deal, in essence admitting to the 9 counts to protect himself from further allegations. He decided against the deal, and wound up with a minimum 25 counts against him.

Then – then! – he offered information on a completely unrelated murder case, in exchange for a reduction in the charges against him. The man turned in a colleague of his who was of course as innocent as you or I. Needless today the charges against Seelig stand.

And, now, it seems that the Case of the Gluten-full Bread is finally going to trial. Not only is this important for people who got violently ill after eating this bread; it’s also a valuable warning for anyone who thinks they can cash in quick on a “gluten-free” fad diet without anyone knowing.

What’s more, it should be a wake-up call to the FDA. Until they finalize the definition of “gluten-free,” the door is open to more cases like this one.

What do you think should happen to Paul Seelig? Have you encountered any other cases of willful misrepresentation like this?