Celiac.com 01/31/2006 – On Tuesday, January 10, 2006, federal authorities raided French Meadow Bakery in Minneapolis, MN, and seized more that 30,000 loaves of spelt and kamut bread and accused the company of mislabeling it as "wheat-free". According to U.S. Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger spelt and kamut share common proteins with wheat that can be just as dangerous to those who are allergic to wheat. French Meadow Bakery considers both grains to be safe alternatives to wheat, and claims that it has only received a single complaint of an allergic reaction during its 16 years in business. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the bakery was given plenty of forewarning, as it was told last April that it needed to change its labels and not use "wheat-free" on any products that contain spelt or kamut—but the bakery failed to comply.
Wheat is considered one of the top 10 allergens, and allergies to it can be life threatening—especially to allergic children. According to the new Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, foods that contain spelt or kamut cannot carry "wheat-free" or "wheat-alternative" labels. Heffelfinger believes that mislabeling it will create a serious health risk for a significant portion of the population.
French Meadow Bakery has agreed to change its labels and has submitted the revised ones to the Food and Drug Administration for approval, however, on its Web site they have the following statements:
"In the meantime the packaging changes have become a challenge for us and several other companies as to whether spelt is wheat or is not...We feel it is more important to look at the nutritional and digestive properties since it (spelt) is not a hybrid of what we call wheat today...We are not alone in this, after reviewing our fellow bakers Web sites, (Rudis Bakery and Food for Life) we learned that they too call Spelt a wheat alternative...Our intention has not and is not to risk the health of our valued customers...As an example of this, we state on our White Spelt and Cinnamon Raisin Spelt products a warning: CELIACS NOTE: SPELT CONTAINS GLUTEN."
Celiac.com has also just learned that Purity Foods, a major spelt producer, has applied for an exemption from the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act and in it claim that spelt is not wheat, and that some people who are allergic to wheat can tolerate spelt. However, according to Donald D. Kasarda, Former Research Chemist for the United States Department of Agriculture:
The scientific name for bread wheat is Triticum aestivum var. Aestivum—the first part of the name defines the genus (Triticum) and the second part, the species (aestivum). Species falling in the genus Triticum are almost certain to be harmful to celiac patients...Some Triticum species of current concern include Triticum aestivum var. spelta (common names include spelt or spelta), Triticum turgidum var. polonicum (common names include Polish wheat, and, recently, Kamut), and Triticum monococcum var. monococcum (common names include einkorn and small spelt). I recommend that celiac patients avoid grain from these species. Also, given their very close relationship to bread and durum wheats, I think it is unlikely that these grains would be safe for those with classical allergic responses to wheat.
The companys bread will remain frozen until the case is settled, and Heffelfinger has indicated that none of the products already on food store shelves across the country will be recalled because the bread would likely exhaust its shelf life by the time a recall could be issued. Celiac.com, however, believes that this issue is settled—spelt and kamut are forms of wheat and those with celiac disease and/or wheat allergy should completely avoid them—there are just too many alternative grains out there to take such health risks. We can only hope that Purity Foods application for exemption will be met with strong, scientifically-supported opposition.