Food allergen 'plain language' food labelling to start in U.S.

Added on 09 May, 2005 . There are .

In January 2006, new 'plain language' food labelling requirements are to take effect in the U.S. after The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act was passed by Congress in an effort to reduce allergic reactions in people suffering from potentially life threatening food allergies.

The new law will require manufacturers to use plain, common language for the presence of any of the eight major food allergens; egg, fish, milk, peanut, shellfish, soy, tree nut and wheat. Companies will also be required to indicate any major food allergens used in spices, flavourings, additives and colourings, categories that had previously been exempt.

Currently 11 million Americans suffer from food allergies, and these impending label changes are seen as a step to make life simpler for sufferers, and hopefully reduce the need to contact food manufacturers directly for details.

Many consumers are currently confused by the use of alternative names for some allergens, for example, "casein" instead of "milk.

If the new labelling law is followed to the letter then even trace amounts of previously unlisted food allergens will be shown on labels. However there have been some concerns that this will lead to even more diet restrictions than before.

A recent study carried out by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network found that 99% of respondents said that they 'always' or 'frequently' read food labels before buying a product. With 86% saying that they also contacted manufacturers for further information. And 16% reporting that they had suffered allergic reactions because they misunderstood the label terms, with 22% having a reaction because allergens were not included on the label at all (also known as undisclosed ingredients).

Anne Munoz-Furlong, co-author of the study, and founder of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network said "If the company follows the law exactly, we may have ingredients in trace amounts that may unnecessarily limit the diet".

While better food labelling is therefore a hugely important step forward for food allergy sufferers, it should also be tempered with a cautious approach to ensure a safe and healthy diet is still maintained.