Eating should be a pleasure, not a scary situation for food allergy patients
We need clear and accurate food labelling information

FoodLabellingFood is an essential for human life, and is the easiest way to maintain and improve our health condition. However, food allergy is not rare: 1 in 5 Europeans suffer from food reactions and 7 million Europeans, mostly under 25 years old, are allergic to some kind of food. Over the last decade, the number of allergic children younger than 5 with allergies has doubled and visits to emergency rooms due to anaphylaxis have increased seven-fold.

Food allergy appears when the immune system of a person fails to distinguish between dangerous and harmless foods. The body then releases histamine and other substances to fight the food ingested. Allergies may cause several symptoms, ranging from gastro-intestinal problems, eczemas, urticarias to airway obstructions and cardiovascular shocks. Reactions may arise within a few minutes of eating the food or be delayed by up to a couple of hours.

The prevention of food allergies

There is no cure for food allergies, the only protection is the abstention from the allergen causing the reaction. Consumers suffering from allergies must therefore be able to identify the ingredients they are sensitive to.

The European Union regulation on the provision of food information for consumers that entered into force in 2014 identifies a list of 14 allergens (eggs, milk, fish, crustaceans, molluscs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, cereals containing gluten, soybeans, celery and celeriac, mustard, lupin and sulphites), labels on food products must be emphasised and available all the time for consumers.

Sometimes people, and even policy-makers, consider allergy as a trivial disease, but they do not realise that the allergy might result in poor nutrition, quality of life, fear, restrictions, social isolation, and sometimes even death. In fact, 8% of food allergic people might have acute anaphylaxis reactions that could be fatal to their lives.

We, at EFA, consider the EU regulation on food information for consumers to be a positive step in order to improve health and quality of life for people with food allergies. We advocate to strengthen it with the following measures:

  • The full food ingredient list should be always indicated both for pre-packed and non-pre-packed foods (currently, there are exceptions based on the size of the package of the food), as other people may be allergic to other substances than to the 14 identified allergens;
  • Written information on the presence of allergens in non-pre-packed foods is the most reliable means to provide detailed information for allergic consumers, unless the person that prepared the food is available to list the ingredients to the consumers;
  • Precautionary labelling i.e. “may contain” mention should be abolished after the establishmentof “safe thresholds”;
  • The European Union should adopt a comprehensive approach on food labelling, taking into account all aspects relating to legibility, including font, colour and contrast, to guarantee clear legibility and safe choices for allergic consumers;
  • The European Commission should be responsible for sharing the best food labelling examples and practices among EU Member States legislations, and drafting and implementing EU-wide guidelines.

EFA’s documents and activities on food allergy

Tags: Disease area: Food allergy
Theme: Food labelling

What's new - Food labelling

EFA brought to a European Commission workshop on precautionary labelling the patients perspective to abolish “may contain” mentions. With 17 million Europeans affected by food allergies, allergen info ...

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With 150 million Europeans currently affected by allergy and estimations alerting that by 2025 half of the European population will suffer from them, we have helped the Interest Group on Allergy and A ...

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Latest research - Food labelling

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Key Facts

1 in 5 Europeans
has reactions to food

14 allergens
are recognised by the European Union

7 million Europeans
have food allergy, 8% of which produce acute anaphylaxis and considered potentially fatal