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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

FOOD labelling law

New Food Labeling Allergy Law Starts Jan 2006

With a new food-labeling law set to take effect Jan. 1 2006, the packages of many popular foods -- from candy bars to canned tuna -- are starting to highlight the presence of allergy-triggering substances like peanuts, soy and wheat. Some big food makers like Campbell Soup Co. are going so far as to revamp their recipes to take out allergens before they are required to list them. This is good news for the millions of Americans who suffer from food allergies, which affect 4% of Americans, kill 150 people each year, and send 30,000 more to emergency rooms. Peanut allergies are on the rise among children, with their prevalence doubling from 1997 to 2002, according to a study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

But the new law is causing confusion, too. It requires allergens to be identified even if they are present only in a tiny amount as ingredients -- an issue the federal Food and Drug Administration hasn't clarified. As many food makers rush to comply by listing every possible allergy-causing substance, consumers who pore over labels are noticing some surprising substances on ingredient lists -- like a clear beef broth that contains milk or a canned tuna that contains soy. What they don't know is whether those amounts are significant enough to trigger an allergic reaction. "The law just says you label everything," says Steve L. Taylor, a University of Nebraska food-science and technology professor. But he argues that unless the FDA offers further guidance on issues such as allergens that exist in small amounts, "consumers will get more information than what they can deal with."

The law -- the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act -- requires food labels to list in "plain language" whether they contain any of the eight major allergens: tree nuts (including almonds, walnuts, and pecans), milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, soybeans and wheat. Labels must either use parentheses to clarify that, for instance, "whey" or "casein" is a milk product, or they must note at the end of the ingredients list that the product "contains" an allergen. For most products, it's an obvious call. But some foods might contain tiny amounts of an allergen -- say, as an ingredient of the flavoring……. (subscription site)

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