Kennedy/Lowey bill heads to Senate floor

WASHINGTON—Americans who suffer from food allergies are one step closer to having common allergens clearly identified in plain English on food labels. Legislation sponsored by Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) today cleared the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee with the support of several key Republicans, including the committee’s ranking Republican member Judd Gregg, and the Senate’s only physician, Bill Frist. If ultimately signed into law, the bill would bring about the first food-label changes since the passage of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act in 1990.

“Right now it’s really hard for parents of children with food allergies to spot common food allergens on ingredients lists,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “But if this bill becomes law, parents won’t have to worry that the most common and dangerous allergens are lurking behind unfamiliar words, or hidden in ‘natural flavorings.’”

The bill would require food manufacturers to use familiar words like “milk,” or “wheat” to explain more obscure terms like “casein” or “semolina.” The bill would also close a major loophole that lets allergens present in spices, flavorings, or colorings to go undisclosed on ingredients lists. In order to gain bipartisan support, however, language improving the readability of ingredients lists was dropped from the bill. That language called for standardized font, color contrast, and upper-and-lower-case print.

Eight ingredients—peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soybeans, and wheat—account for most allergic reactions. Allergic reactions to food result in some 29,000 hospitalizations and 150 deaths each year.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the House by Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY).