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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It Takes A Village - Food Manufacturing

As noted before, It Takes A Village to manage an allergy and food manufactures bear significant responsibility.

This week Cadbury stunned the allergy community with a significant recall of thousands of Cadbury Mini Creme Eggs and Easter Chicks due to missing allergy labeling. This is particularly scary since these products are typically directed at young children.

In response to the Cadbury announcement, (incidentally their second recall within the last few months), Loraine Heller wrote an excellent piece entitled "Allergens: no room for mistakes".

Lorraine urges manufactures to prioritize allergens ahead of other food related concerns such as unfounded health claims on products or products that have hidden hazards such as contributing to obesity.

The link between allergen and anaphylaxis is a direct and well-documented risk. Lorraine notes that "allergens sit one notch up on the priority ladder – because when we're talking about the risk of people dying after a single nutritional slip, or even suffering a seriously compromised quality of life, there really is no room for debate."

Given that I have a child with anaphylaxis to peanut and egg I obviously concur, and am concerned.

She also notes progress that has been made ...
"New labeling regulations implemented last year in the US require the labeling in simple language of eight major food allergens - milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy."

and some things that are troubling ...
"Europe has gone one step further, essentially abolishing an outrageous '25%' rule – which meant that a compound ingredient comprising less than 25 percent of the finished product (such as salami on pizza) did not have to have its individual ingredients listed. But since 2005 products for sale in Europe must label 12 allergens, with an additional two shortly due to be added to the list."

It is not surprising that Europe has again taken the lead in erring on the side of caution in food related matters. Europe typically takes a more precautionary approach to food manufacturing rules, as evidenced by their tougher stance on GMOs vis a vis North America.

The other trend that everybody has noticed is that many products now feature 'may contain' labeling. The USDA requires this labeling whenever a manufacturer cannot be sure that the product is allergen free. The problem though is that many feel these labels are primarily for legal protection and as a result there is something of a 'Boy Who Cried Wolf' effect in the marketplace.

Says Lorraine, "Manufacturers feel they are being responsible, while consumers feel they are opting for a legal cop-out. As a result, the labels are mistrusted and often ignored."

The bottom line is that as parents of an anaphylactic child we have learned much about how to read labels, though it is confusing at times. It is very helpful when plain English is used and dangerous when allergens are buried. It is not helpful, for example, when a label includes 'vegetable oil' instead of calling out the exact oil. This happens when oils are a composite or if the ingredients are subject to variation.

I need the manufacturer to tell me whether there is peanut in the product. People allergic to the other primary allergens need the same level of clarity. Though progress has been made, there more work needed on the food manufacturing and labeling front.

My favourite quote in the Cadbury article comes from Tony Bilsborough, who said that the incorrect allergy labeling was discovered "through our regular due diligence report". Perhaps that process needs to be tightened before the product actually hits the shelves!

It is true ... there is no margin for error.


Tom said...

Hey, I thought this was a peak oil blog!

NoPeanuts said...

Closest thing would be calling it a Peanut Oil Blog ... check out my "Peanut Oil Refinery" post ... this could be the 'new oil' =).