Food Labelling

Food allergy appears when the immune system of a person fails to distinguish between dangerous and harmless foods. The body starts releasing histamine and other substances to fight the food ingested. Reactions may arise within a few seconds after eating the food or delayed by up to a couple of hours, including symptoms such as itching of the lips, vomiting, skin swelling, fatigue, depression, headache or bloating among many others.

In contrast to food allergies, food intolerances are caused by enzyme deficiency, responsible for a lack of tolerance against certain food ingredients. While the cause is different for food intolerances, it eventually results in the same symptoms as food allergies. Factors causing reactions are colorants, preservatives, flavours, artificial flavour enhancers and synthetic antioxidants.

In the European Union, 17 million Europeans suffer from food reactions; 3.5 million are under the age of 25. Over the last decade, the number of allergic children younger than five years with allergy has doubled, while visits in emergency rooms due to anaphylactic shocks have increased seven-fold. Almost 10 % of food allergic people may have acute anaphylactic reactions that could be fatal to their lives.

Food allergic reactions can be triggered by several factors (not limited to): 

  • Additives like sulphites and dyes, for example Carmine and Saffron, used for food colouring, have been reported to cause anaphylaxis
  • Flavours (artificial and natural), like artificial vanilla, amyl acetate (used as banana flavouring), ethyl butyrate (used as pineapple flavouring) or fumaric acid (to dry foods) may cause (severe) allergic reactions

Food avoidance as only cure – affecting daily nutrition and quality of life

Yet there is no cure for food allergies but the abstention from the allergen-causing reactions. To avoid this, people living with food allergies also suffer from poor daily nutrition, prepacked products need to carry labels in order for consumers to identify whether products contain ingredients they are allergic 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 that need to be labelled (eggs, milk, fish, crustaceans, molluscs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, cereals containing gluten, soybeans, celery and celeriac, mustard, lupin and sulphites). Furthermore, producers can choose to voluntarily label their products for containing also other ingredients, potentially causing allergic reactions. However, labels on food products must be consistent and emphasised, and available at all times for consumers.

Cross contact - a serious threat to people living with food allergy

Cross contact happens when a food allergen gets into another food accidentally, potentially causing an allergic reaction. Cross contact may, among others, be caused during food production (when using the same production machines) while transporting and storing food, and during food preparation (due to allergens on a surface or an object). 

To improve health and quality of life for people with food allergies, EFA advocates for: ______