Natural Foods Merchandiser

Allergen Labeling Legislation Moves Forward

Packaged food companies will soon have to alter their ingredient labeling concerning food allergens if legislation up for vote Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives passes as expected.

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2003, if passed into law, would tighten labeling requirements for food products that contain any of eight major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans.

The bill, which was approved unanimously by the Senate in March and passed out of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on July 8, now requires only House approval and a signature from President Bush to become law, both of which seem likely.

"We have had bicameral, bipartisan and administrative support," said Julie Edwards, spokeswoman for Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., who sponsored the bill in the House. "I think we've gotten to the point where everyone acknowledges this is the good thing and the right thing to do."

The act would require foods to be labeled clearly, in plain language, if they contain any of eight main food allergens, even if they are included under spices, colorings or flavorings. It would also require the Centers for Disease Control to track deaths related to food allergies and direct the National Institutes of Health to form a panel and plan for research related to food allergies.

"I think it's a great thing and a step forward," said Scott Mandell, president of Enjoy Life Foods, producers of allergen-free food products. "It shows heightened awareness of food allergies."

Mandell said some small companies might have challenges transitioning into compliance with the new regulations if they are passed, but will soon get used to it. He said the legislation could be helpful because 90 percent of food allergies are caused by only eight foods, which would be labeled clearly under the law if it is passed.

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