WASHINGTON -- The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) today petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require food labels to disclose common allergens and to set manufacturing standards to prevent the inadvertent contamination of non-allergenic foods with allergens.

     Almost five years ago, then FDA Commissioner David Kessler urged the food industry to address the “major public health problem of undeclared allergens in food.” Yet, as discovered by a 2000 study by the FDA, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, in a sample of 85 manufacturers of bakery products, candy, and ice cream in those states, one-quarter made products that were contaminated with peanut or egg ingredients that were not declared on the labels. When that study was publicized, several food trade associations urged their members voluntarily to improve their labeling and manufacturing processes.

     “The time is up for relying on voluntary action by manufacturers. It’s now time for the FDA to protect those Americans who have food allergies by requiring all companies to disclose common food allergens, using plain English and legible format,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI. “Few milk-sensitive children or parents would know that ‘whey’ is a dairy ingredient.”

     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. An estimated 29,000 people per year are rushed to hospital emergency rooms because of allergic reactions to foods, and 150 people die each year as a result of those reactions.

     CSPI’s petition was submitted by Washington attorney William B. Schultz, former FDA Deputy Commissioner for Policy. The petition emphasizes that the FDA has ample legal authority to take the actions requested by CSPI.

     The FDA has taken no formal action on a similar petition filed in May 2000 by the Attorneys General of New York, Maryland, Michigan, Wyoming, Ohio, Tennessee, Connecticut, Vermont, and Massachusetts. The FDA also has not acted on CSPI’s 2001 petition calling on the FDA to improve the legibility of ingredient lists on all food packages.