Legislation offered by Kennedy, Lowey would list common allergens on food labels

WASHINGTON - The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) today commended Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) for introducing legislation to improve ingredient labeling on foods to protect consumers who suffer from food allergies. The bill would require food manufacturers to use legible typefaces like those used for Nutrition Facts labels.

     Approximately four million Americans, including up to six percent of children, are allergic to one type of food or another. Eight ingredients—peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soybeans, and wheat—account for most allergic reactions. About 29,000 people are rushed to hospital emergency rooms each year because of allergic reactions to foods, and some 150 people die each year as a result.

     “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 Food and Drug Administration has taken no action on either a food allergen petition filed in May 2000 by state Attorneys General, or on a similar petition filed by CSPI in October 2001.

     The bills introduced by Senator Kennedy and Representative Lowey would also require that food labels bear a toll-free telephone number where a consumer can get more information about possible allergens and would encourage states to require emergency vehicles to carry life-saving EpiPens.