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Roundtable targets EU allergen policy revamp

By Neil Merrett , 29-Jan-2008

A roundtable discussion on allergen legislation to be held next month in Italy could spell the end of "may contain" warnings on food labels, according to one of its organisers.

The workshop, which will be held on 2 February at the Hotel Executive in Milan, will gather Italian clinicians, scientists and members of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to discuss their experiences with current EU food allergen laws.


The event was devised by Italy-based non-profit organisation Allegria, which supports research into allergens and asthma, to address possible concerns in the country's food industry over dealing with the allergen issue.


Luca Bucchini of MCA events, which are jointly hosting the talks, told FoodNavigator.com that with a growing number of allergens being discovered existing regulations in Italy and Europe may be insufficient for purpose.


"Attendees at the talks will discuss whether current laws are the right direction or whether another approach is needed," he said.


Bucchini added that the issue was also one of nutrition, as consumers with certain allergies to foods could be restricted in terms of having a balanced diet. Italy in particular has devised an allergen free diet, which removed some important foodstuffs from consumption, he added.


The discussions will predominantly focus on developments within the Italian market, though Bucchini said that the event could have implications for EU-wide allergen policy.


In a statement released by Allergria, Professor Alessandro Fiocchi, head of paediatrics at the Macedonio Melloni Hospital, questioned how current labelling systems warning of the potential presence of allergens could fully benefit consumers.


"What should the clinician's advise be to parents who ask about a food without milk, but that bears the 'may contain' statement? It is a matter of responsibility and regulation may be warranted," he stated.


He pointed to the UK system, which he said currently offered voluntary guidelines for manufacturers regarding food allergen management, as offering an encouraging example in finding a possible solution to the problem.


Current legislation on allergens has been in place since 2003, though Professor Patrizia Restani of the University of Milan also agreed that some revisions may be needed.


"The way forward has to be more than a continuous improvement in the sensitivity of analytical tests," stated allergens expert Restani. "Progress in testing methods is needed but, without thresholds, this may backfire against the food industry and, most importantly, against patients themselves"


Another issue of notable concern according to Allegria was that of cross-contamination during production, which it claims is not covered by EU directives.


Dr Luigi Terracciano, a paediatrician and a food allergen Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) expert said that when it came to improving safety for allergic consumers, answers may not be obvious.


"School canteens, at least in Italy, face legal hurdles and are overloaded with parents' requests related to pseudo allergies," he stated. "Solutions are possible, but very complex."


Further information regarding the discussions can be found at: www.mcaevents.org

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