WASHINGTON -- Manufacturers of products containing any of the "Big Eight" food allergens -- peanuts, soybeans, milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans, tree nuts and wheat -- are being urged to follow new labeling guidelines. The voluntary guidelines may stave off governmental action on the matter.
Under the guidelines, labels would clearly identify allergens in simple terms and within, or in immediate proximity to, the ingredient panel. Until now, regulations required allergens to be cited in scientific, and often confusing, terms, such as whey instead of milk; semolina rather than wheat, and albumin for eggs. The "Big Eight" allergens are thought to cause more than 90% of food-allergic reactions. More allergens may be added to the list in the future.
Manufacturers will also disclose the presence of major food allergens when they are an "intentional" part of the food; instead of saying "natural flavor," a label would specify what the flavor is, such as "natural wheat flavor."
The proposed change is designed to help consumers make a clear decision about whether a food is appropriate for them to eat, Lisa Katic, director of scientific and nutrition policy, Grocery Manufacturers of America here, told Brand Marketing.
The GMA is a member of the Food Allergy Issues Alliance, which developed the rules. Along with the GMA, the Alliance had representation from 15 food trade associations, including the American Frozen Food Institute, National Confectioners Association, Snack Food Association and International Diary Foods Association.
Leslie Sarasin, president and chief executive officer of the AFFI, McLean, Va., which represents such manufacturers as Kraft Foods and the Coca-Cola Co.'s Minute Maid unit, said many frozen-food companies are already communicating allergy information to consumers, with more expected to follow suit.
"We will be working closely with our members to educate them on the importance of how they label their products," she said.
Manufacturers of other types of food, especially cereal, have also embraced the effort. Companies such as Kellogg Co. and General Mills have identified allergens on their labels for several years. Officials of those firms were unavailable for comment.