New labelling on foods still not clear enough for allergy sufferers

November 17, 2005

Safety for people with food allergies will be boosted later this month when new European laws will force manufacturers to label their food more accurately, but the laws do not offer full protection, says an editorial in this week's BMJ.

The European Union directive on food labelling, which comes into effect on November 25, means manufacturers of packaged food will have to detail clearly if certain allergens are present in food, such as nuts, milk, eggs and fish.

The authors say this is welcome and shows that the threat of allergic reactions is now being taken seriously, but the general public needs to be aware that food manufactured and packaged before November 25 may still be in old style packaging.

Also, freshly prepared foods are exempt from the rules, something the authors are particularly concerned about, as they say most severe anaphylactic reactions to food happen when people are eating out in restaurants and cafes.

The EU should follow the approach adopted in Australasia, they argue, where all food suppliers have to give consumers detailed information on food either on packaging, on a display alongside food being served, or to the purchaser on request.

Another shortcoming of the EU rule is that it does nothing about the vagueness of the "may contain traces of nuts" warning, so the authors call for factories to establish separate production lines, processing and packaging for foods that contain the main allergens.

One of the authors Professor Aziz Sheikh, professor of primary care research and development at the University of Edinburgh, said: 'Policy makers, legislators and food suppliers need to appreciate that neither underplaying or overplaying the risks of exposure to allergenic foods is helpful for those living with what is often a highly debilitating life-long condition.'


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