Senate Passes Food Allergen Labeling Bill
Plain English Words Would Identify Allergens on Ingredient List
March 9, 2004
The Senate last night unanimously passed legislation that would help Americans with food allergies spot common allergens on food labels. The bill was sponsored by Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA). Representative Nita M. Lowey (D-NY) has similar legislation pending in the House.
The bill requires food manufacturers to use plain English words like “milk” or “wheat” rather than less familiar words like “casein” or “semolina” to identify common food allergens on ingredients lists. The bill also would close a major loophole that now lets allergens in spices and flavorings go undisclosed. Eight ingredients—eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soybeans, tree nuts, and wheat—account for most allergic reactions.
“This bipartisan legislation could be a real life-saver for people with food allergies,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, who noted that each year 29,000 Americans are hospitalized and 150 die from allergic reactions to food. “Parents shouldn’t have to worry that the ‘natural flavoring’ in some processed food is going to trigger anaphylactic shock in their kid.”
The bill would also require the FDA to inspect food manufacturing facilities for, and to encourage the food industry to reduce, inadvertent cross-contamination of foods with allergens during processing. The bill also directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to collect data on adverse reactions to allergenic foods.
Although similar legislation cleared the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions last year, Congress adjourned before the bill reached a floor vote. This year the bill enjoys the support of the Bush Administration.
A major impetus for the legislation was a 2001 article in CSPI’s Nutrition Action Healthletter that publicized a study by the Food and Drug Administration showing that about 25 percent of candy, ice cream, and baked goods from plants in Minnesota and Wisconsin had products with undeclared egg or peanut ingredients.