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October 30, 2001

Miller: Put Allergy Notices on Food Labels

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin developing rules that would give Iowa consumers more information on product labels about possible allergens in the foods they buy. Allergens can induce an allergic state or reaction.

"There likely are more than 50,000 Iowa adults and children who are allergic to various food products -- a number comparable to the population of Ames," Miller said. "The problem for these Iowans is that it is not always apparent when substances such as shellfish, eggs, nuts or other allergens are included in packaged foods. Such ingredients usually are not listed prominently, or they may be listed only by their scientific names. I think we can do better than that," he said.

"The FDA is at an early stage of considering this issue," Miller said. "My office will continue to monitor the issue so we can protect consumers without placing unreasonable burdens on food manufacturers. The presence of allergenic substances in food products is a serious health matter for many Iowans and it could be a life or death issue for some."

Miller said thirty-one State Attorneys General submitted suggestions in a letter urging the FDA to require improved consumer notices on food labels when a product contains substances that may be highly allergenic to some persons. The letter asks the FDA to consider several possible measures:

  • Requiring food manufacturers to use mandatory plain English instead of technical terms for the eight most common food allergens -- for example, common terms such as milk, eggs, fish, shell fish, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts and soybeans, instead of technical terms such as caseinate, albumin or crustacea.
  • Requiring food manufacturers to include notice in product labels if spices, flavoring or colors contain allergenic ingredient additives.
  • Requiring allergen labeling to appear prominently and conspicuously on the information panel or principal display panel of a package label.
  • Requiring food manufacturers to list a toll-free phone number consumers may call to talk to trained and knowledgeable customer service representatives about ingredients contained in the food.
  • Requiring food makers to adopt manufacturing practices aimed at preventing cross-contamination with allergenic substances.

"Roughly five million Americans are allergic to various types of food, about 2 percent of adults and 2-8 percent of children," Miller said. "The best method to manage a food allergy is to strictly avoid the offending food or allergen, and to do that consumers need good information. That's why this is important."

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