Plain talk about food labels
March 22, 2003
NFPA endorses presenting information on allergens in terms that consumers can readily understand
Washington, D.C., is not a place usually associated with "straight talk," but food processors used the occasion of a recent FDA public meeting on food allergen labeling issues to call for "plain language" on food labels. "The National Food Processors Association believes it is important to present information on major food allergens in terms commonly understood by consumers," said Regina Hildwine, NFPA senior director of food labeling and standards. She said food allergen information presented in plain language would help food-allergic consumers to recognize foods they must avoid. However, she indicated that plain language should augment rather than replace current ingredient labeling requirements. Hildwine also addressed the issue of supplementary or advisory labeling (so-called "may contain" statements), noting that any discussion of the issue initially should focus on good manufacturing practices (GMPs) to ensure that product does not accidentally become contaminated by major allergens. Supplementary labels should be relatively rare, not increasingly common, Hildwine said.
Sidebar: An independent Scientific Advisory Panel has submitted a report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicating that it is unable to set a reasonable tolerance level for StarLink corn in food for human consumption. In the panel's report, 16 medical experts and scientists said there is a "medium likelihood" that StarLink protein is a potential human allergen, and there is sufficient evidence that there is a "low probability of allergenicity" in the exposed population based on levels of StarLink in the U.S. diet. However, the panel stopped short of recommending a tolerance level, indicating that available information is simply inadequate to set such a standard. As a result, EPA and other federal agencies will maintain efforts to divert StarLink corn away from the human food supply. The report is a setback for StarLink corn manufacturer Aventis, which earlier this year petitioned EPA for a tolerance of 20 parts per billion of StarLink in processed food.
StarLink dealt a setback