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New labelling to track food allergens


On September 6, the European Commission issued a proposal for an amendment to the food labelling Directive, intended to ensure that all consumers are informed of the complete contents of foodstuffs and to enable consumers with allergies to identify any allergenic ingredients that may be present. The proposal will abolish the "25% rule," which currently means that it is not mandatory to label the components of compound ingredients that make up less than 25 per cent of the final food product. This proposal means that all ingredients intentionally added will have to be included on the label. The proposal will also establish a list of ingredients liable to cause allergies or intolerances and will include alcoholic beverages if they contain an ingredient on the allergen list. David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said: "Labelling which provides total transparency by listing all ingredients can only boost the confidence of consumers and is a direct response to repeated requests from consumers for better information about the foods they purchase and specifically about their composition." "This is a very clear example of the European Union working concretely in favour of citizens' ordinary needs. I am particularly committed to a revised labelling regime that gives consumers full information about potential allergens. This will provide for no exceptions. It will extend from foodstuffs to include alcoholic beverages." In the White Paper on Food Safety, the Commission announced its intention of proposing an amendment to the Labelling Directive 2000/13/EC, especially the "25 % rule." This 25 per cent rule was introduced into Community legislation more than 20 years ago in order to avoid inordinately long lists of ingredients. It is based on the principle that the consumer knows the composition of compound ingredients and can therefore deduce, for example, that jam added to biscuits is prepared with fruit and sugar. The new proposal would abolish this percentage. Over the past few years, consumers have repeatedly expressed the wish to be better informed about the foodstuffs they purchase, and specifically about their composition, even if full ingredient labelling will inevitably make ingredient lists longer. Information is highly important for certain consumers suffering from allergies or adverse reactions to certain substances. The proportion of the population with food allergies or food intolerances is increasing all the time and new allergens are emerging. For these people the lack of detailed information is a handicap, in that they are never sure that the product they are buying does not contain the allergen that can provoke an adverse reaction. Allergic consumers therefore need to have complete and precise labelling and the new proposal provides for that. The new requirements have been drafted with certain provisions to avoid absurdities or over-regulation. To prevent the risk of labelling becoming too complex, and to take account of the technical constraints associated with the manufacture of foodstuffs, the proposal authorises some limited derogations (not applicable to allergens), and a flexibility with regard to the listing of ingredients used in very small quantity. The additional labelling requirements will enter into force after a transitional period to allow companies to bring product labelling into line with the new provisions. The proposal will be forwarded to the Parliament and the Council under the co-decision procedure.

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