A Bill put before the US legislature which would improve ingredient labelling and help protect consumers who suffer from food allergies has been welcomed by US consumer protection groups. Food manufacturers, however, believe the legislation is burdensome and uneccessary.
The Bill, introduced by Representative Nita Lowey and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, would require food manufacturers to use legible typefaces like those used for Nutrition Facts labels when listing ingredients. It would also require that food labels bear a toll-free telephone number where consumers can get more information about possible allergens and would encourage states to require emergency vehicles to carry life-saving EpiPens.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said it applauded Lowey and Kennedy for introducing the legislation, adding that nearly four million people in America, including up to 6 per cent of children, are allergic to one type of food or another.
The CSPI said that just eight ingredients - peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soybeans, and wheat - accounted for most allergic reactions. Around 150 people die each year as a result of allergic reactions, it said.
"It's time for Congress to protect those Americans who have food allergies by requiring all companies to disclose common food allergens, using plain English and a legible format," CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said. "Many parents of milk-sensitive children don't know that whey is a dairy ingredient, for instance, or that albumen is an egg ingredient, but this bill would require that they be identified as such on the label."
The CSPI said that the Bill had been introduced after the Food and Drug Administration failed to act on a petition filed in May 2000 by state Attorneys General, or on a similar petition filed by the CSPI itself in October 2001.
While consumer groups have welcomed the proposed legislation, the food industry has reacted in an entirely different manner. The Bill "could impose unnecessary and burdensome regulations on the food industry according to the IDFA, the group which represents the interests of US dairy producers.
The IDFA said it was working with congressional staff to provide an industry perspective on several "negative" impacts of the legislation. It added that the food industry was already working closely with the government to promote easy-to-read language about allergenic ingredients on food labels for consumers.
The IDFA said it was a part of the Food Allergy Issues Alliance, a coalition of food organisations and the Food Allergy Network, a leading allergic consumer group. Last year, this coalition announced new voluntary guidelines for clear labelling of allergenic ingredients in order to maintain consumer confidence in food labelling.