Threshold of allergen food ingredients needs more research
new rules on the labelling of food allergens, Europe's risk
assessment body concludes that current scientific evidence is
'insufficient to establish an intake threshold'. Industry and
national governments look certain to carry out case by case studies
on a range of allergen ingredients, results of which could herald
even tighter labelling and processing laws.
Cereals, peanuts, soy and dairy products were among a range of potential allergens investigated by the Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) panel, part of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), at the request of the Commission. Their findings show 'ample evidence' to justify a list of allergenic ingredients and their derivatives on the food label.
"In no case is the available evidence sufficient to establish an intake threshold below which allergic reactions are not triggered, or to predict reliably the effect of food processing on allergenic potential," said Professor Albert Flynn, chair of EFSA's NDA panel.
While recognising that specific derivatives might not trigger an allergic reaction, Professor Flynn concluded that this would have to be evaluated on a 'case by case basis'.
Welcomed by allergy associations, last November Europe confronted the food industry with new rules - to enter into force in November 2004 - on food allergen ingredients when Brussels cleared Directive 2003/89/EC, amending Directive 2000/13. Food manufacturers will have to list all sub-ingredients of compound ingredients, which means that allergens cannot be 'hidden', heralding an end to the 20 year old 25 per cent rule with all ingredients labelled, regardless of the quantity contained in the finished food.
"We are very pleased with the new rules," Susanna Palkonen of the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients' Associations tells FoodNavigator.com. Lobbying the Commission hard for the changes, the allergy alliance sees the amendments as a victory but remains concerned about the 'may contain' issue.
"Our concern is that 'may contain' is not regulated. In the case of accidental contamination the consumer has no idea of knowing if there is a risk to eating the food product or not,". The alliance is pushing the Commission to strengthen the legislation and to formulate specified thresholds for food allergens on food labels. A view re-enforced by the findings from the NDA EFSA panel that revealed a gap - on allergen intake thresholds - in scientific evidence that needs to be filled.
The food industry can expect to be called on to deepen research into food allergens in order to identify the threshold for a wealth of ingredients, below which an allergic reaction does not occur.
Providing justification for the new directive, the EFSA panel this week claimed there is ample evidence to justify the mandatory inclusion on food labels of the most common food allergen ingredients and their derivatives: cereals containing gluten, fish, crustaceans, egg, peanut, soy, milk and dairy products including lactose, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame seed, and sulphites.
Escalating incidences of food allergies in Europe and the desire to avoid potentially harmful consumer confusion underpinned the amendments to the Labelling Directive 2000/13/EC. The label is the key communication channel between the food industry and the consumer. According to the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients' Associations, estimated 4 per cent of adults and 8 per cent of children in the European Union - the total population equals over 380 million - suffer from food allergies.