A plain English approach to dealing with food allergies

Food allergies are atypical immune system responses to certain foods (normally proteins). According to research published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, in Australia about 10 per cent of children and two per cent of adults have food allergies.

To help these people avoid known allergens, food and beverage products sold in Australia and New Zealand must, by law, list them on their labelling. There are 10 ingredients on this list, namely –  peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, sesame seeds, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat and lupin.

Plain English Allergen Labelling
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the statutory authority charged with food standards, is in the process of reforming allergen labelling requirements. The aim of this exercise, which FSANZ is calling “Plain English Allergen Labelling”, is to make labels simpler and clearer for both consumers and food businesses.

FSANZ CEO Mark Booth said the proposal will address a lack of regulatory clarity that has led to unclear wording on some food labels.

“At the moment, some food allergens must be declared on food labels whenever they are present as an ingredient, food additive or processing aid,” he said. “However, there are no requirements about how the declarations must be made.”

More specifically, FSANZ wants to consider the terminology used on mandatory ingredient lists as compared to declarations made elsewhere on labels. It also says that, as it stands, unclear terminology is sometimes used for labelling fish, crustacea and molluscs; as well as tree nuts and cereals containing gluten. In addition, technical language, which some consumers may be unfamiliar with (e.g. sodium caseinate which is sourced from dairy) is sometimes used on labels.

Any changes won’t be immediate and will follow an extensive consultation process. In March, FSANZ called for submissions on the Plain English Allergen Labelling proposal. While the deadline for submissions had passed when this magazine went to print, a second consultation (including draft amendments to the Food Standards Code) will follow, either late this year or early next year. Any possible legislative changes would follow that release.