Study Authors Urge Regulatory Reform of Food Allergen Labeling
A recent audit of food allergen labeling practices has reportedly concluded that “deficiencies and ambiguities are prevalent,” calling on federal agencies to back the “strict enforcement of labeling laws as well as additional regulation.” M.M. Pieretti, et al., “Audit of manufactured products: use of allergen advisory labels and identification of labeling ambiguities,” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, August 2009. In their review of 20,241 products, researchers identified 25 different allergen advisory terms including “may contain,” “shared equipment” and “within plant.” They also noted that “nonspecific terms, such as ‘natural flavors’ and ‘spices,’ appeared on 65 percent of products and were not linked to a specific ingredient for 83 percent of them.”
The study specifically raised questions about the labeling of soy-derived lecithin and refined oils containing soy. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires manufacturers to list “soy” as an ingredient in lecithin-containing products, but does not require the same advisory on products using refined oils that contain soy. Nevertheless, producers often use a soy allergen warning for refined oil ingredients even though neither lecithin nor refined oil is likely to trigger an allergic reaction because they contain only trace amounts of soy proteins. Other ambiguities highlighted by the audit included the nonspecific labeling of tree-nut types and the failure to indicate the origin of gelatin, which may come from fish, pork or beef. “Additional allergen labeling regulation could improve safety and quality of life for individuals with food allergy,” stated the study authors. See FoodNavigator-USA.com, August 17, 2009; Atlanta Gluten-Free Food Examiner, August 18, 2009.