Food 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
- EFA Presentation on European Commission and Joint Research Center workshop on precautionary labelling - June 2016
- EFA response to the public consultation on the draft EFSA Scientific Opinion on the evaluation of allergenic foods and food ingredients for labelling purposes - December 2014
- EFA response to the European Commission public consultation on Guidelines relating to the provision of information on substances or products causing allergies or intolerances as listed in Annex II of Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers
- Presentation Better labelling to empower people with food allergy in Europe – 8th International European Food and Feed Law Conference (16/10/2014)
- Report on the EFA Event “Eating safely: European best practices on allergens labelling”– November 2014
- Presentation Allergen and Intolerance Labelling – FIC and Food labelling June 2013
- Report on the EFA “Contains/May Contain – Food Allergen Labelling” Event – October 2012
- Better labelling is necessary to empower people with food allergy in Europe abstract and poster – August 2012
- Briefing on the Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the provision of food information to consumers – January 2012
- “May contain” labelling and cross-contamination, information and best practices
- Position Paper on EU Food Labelling Regulation – May 2010