Referred to as The Food Allergen and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) and awaiting the sign-off by President George W. Bush, the new legislation - to take effect from 1 January 2006 - would require that food manufacturers identify, 'in plain, common language', the presence of any of the eight major food allergens - milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy.
"This legislation will end this dangerous game by requiring complete ingredient lists and language written for everyone, not just scientists," said Congresswoman Nita Lowey.
The new US rules do not go as far as the European food allergen legislation that enters into force in November this year and for which food manufacturers will have to list 12 potentially allergic ingredients. The allergens include cereals containing gluten, fish, crustaceans, eggs, peanuts, soy, milk and dairy products, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame seed, and sulphites.
The new EU rules mean these foods will have to be listed clearly on labels whenever they are used in pre-packed foods, including alcoholic drinks. Labels will also need to give clear information about ingredients made from these foods, for example a glaze made from egg.
But like the new European directive (Directive 2003/89/EC, amending Directive 2000/13), which means manufacturers will have to list all sub-ingredients of compound ingredients, the latest US rules cleared yesterday by the House of Representatives will require the end to 'hidden' or undeclared ingredients.
Food labels will have to indicate the presence of major food allergens used in spices, flavourings, additives, and colourings, which had previously been exempt from allergen labelling.
Consumer support groups hailed the green light from the House as a victory. "This legislation will make that task easier for the 11 million Americans who have food allergies and their family and friends who are reading labels on their behalf," said Anne Munoz- Furlong, CEO and founder of FAAN, the active food allergy network group that pushed hard for the new rules.
"Their health and safety depends on their ability to understand the information and know there are no 'hidden' or 'undeclared' allergens in the product," she added.