Legislation in Europe to end 'hidden' allergens on food labels cleared a crucial hurdle last month when the Council and the European Parliament put a red pen through the '25 per cent' rule, ushering in the transparent labelling of food ingredients classed as potential allergens. As Europe plods on with assimilating the new rules, a growing consumer movement is pushing for change of food labels around the world.
For the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Alliance (FAAA) - launched by the US-based The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) - current rules across the globe are not enough, and inconsistent and often confusing labelling practices continue to put consumers with food allergies at risk.
"Until there is a cure for food allergies, clear, consistent and reliable ingredient information is critical to ensure the health and safety of millions of children and adults throughout the world," said Anne Munoz-Furlong, CEO and founder of FAAN, announcing the launch this week of a united initiative calling on government and food industry leaders to adopt ingredient labelling practices that more clearly identify the common food allergens - peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy.
Arguably, the extent to which consumers now feel concern over food allergens is mirrored by the global support the alliance has behind it, including groups from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the UK.
The alliance is calling for "simple language on ingredient statements and the declaration of all allergens, including those present in flavours, colours or spices", as well as a reduction in the use of allergen advisory statements.
The front line of attack for the FAAA is an end to ingredient confusion, which "has meant higher food costs and more time spent shopping for consumers with food allergies".
"We need consumers, government leaders and the food industry working together to make consistent ingredient labeling a priority," concluded David Reading, the founder of the Anaphylaxis Campaign in the UK.
Escalating incidences of food allergies - according to allergy associations 8 per cent of children and 3 per cent of adults are affected - and the desire by consumers to be better informed about foodstuffs they purchase, led the European Commission to propose changes to the Labelling Directive 2000/13/EC - and in particular the 25 per cent rule, introduced more than 20 years ago to avoid inordinately long lists of ingredients on labels.
Under the new rules, food manufacturers will have to list all sub-ingredients of compound ingredients, which means that allergens cannot be 'hidden'. European consumers can expect to see food products donning the new labels on the supermarket shelves in 2005.