The move includes cereals containing gluten, fish, crustaceans, eggs, peanuts, soy, milk and dairy products including lactose, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame seed, and sulphites.
At present, exemptions to the requirements for ingredient listing on pre-packed foods mean that some ingredients, including those that may be allergenic, are not always indicated.
Welcomed by allergy associations, last November Europe confronted the food industry with new rules - to enter into force in November 2004 - on food allergen ingredients. Directive 2003/89/EC, amending Directive 2000/13 means that manufacturers will have to list all sub-ingredients of compound ingredients, and so allergens cannot be 'hidden'. The directive heralds an end to the 20 year old 25 per cent rule under which individual ingredients making up a compound ingredient do not have to be listed if the compound ingredient makes up less than 25 per cent of the finished product.
The new rules establish a list of 12 foods that will have to be listed clearly on labels whenever they are used in pre-packed foods including alcoholic drinks. Labels will also need to give clear information about ingredients made from these foods, for example a glaze made from egg.
Providing justification for the new directive, a recent panel from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) claimed there is ample evidence to justify the mandatory inclusion on food labels of the most common food allergen ingredients and their derivatives.
But the food industry can expect to be called on to deepen research into food allergens in order to identify the threshold for a wealth of ingredients, below which an allergic reaction does not occur.
"In no case is the available evidence sufficient to establish an intake threshold below which allergic reactions are not triggered, or to predict reliably the effect of food processing on allergenic potential,"said Professor Albert Flynn, chair of EFSA's NDA panel.
The Food Standards Agency is consulting on the draft regulations and accompanying guidance notes.
Escalating incidences of food allergies in Europe and the desire to avoid potentially harmful consumer confusion underpinned the amendments to the Labelling Directive 2000/13/EC. The label is the key communication channel between the food industry and the consumer. According to the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients' Associations, estimated 4 per cent of adults and 8 per cent of children in the European Union - the total population equals over 380 million - suffer from food allergies.