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6-Regulation: EU prepares new food allergen labelling directive

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TITLE:  Food without fear: amended food labelling Directive allows consumers
        to discover details on allergens
SOURCE: European Commission, Press Release
DATE:   Nov 14, 2002

------------------ archive: ------------------

Dear GENET-news readers,
this food labelling directive does not deal with the specific issue of GMOs 
but might serve a useful example to illustrate the recent shift in the EU's 
consumer protection and information policy.


Hartmut Meyer


Food without fear: amended food labelling Directive allows consumers to 
discover details on allergens

DN: IP/02/1680
Date: 14/11/2002



Brussels, 14 November 2002

Food without fear: amended food labelling Directive allows consumers to 
discover details on allergens

The Commission's proposal for an amendment to the food labelling 
Directive(1) was endorsed today by a common position in Council. The 
amendment will ensure that consumers are informed of the complete contents 
of foodstuffs and enable consumers with allergies to identify any 
allergenic ingredients that may be present. In particular, it abolishes the 
"25% rule" which currently means that it is not obligatory to label 
components of compound ingredients that make up less than 25% of the final 
food product. A list of ingredients liable to cause allergies or 
intolerance is being established as part of the draft law. The new rules 
will also extend to alcoholic beverages if they contain an ingredient on 
the allergen list for example sulphite in wines.

David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, welcomed the 
Council's common position, commenting that "The complete labelling of 
ingredients is a direct response to repeated requests from consumers for 
better information about the composition of foods they purchase. This is a 
very clear example of the European Union working concretely in favour of 
citizens' day-to-day needs. I am particularly committed to a revised 
labelling regime that gives consumers much more information about potential 
allergens. This regime will extend from foodstuffs to include alcoholic 

Under the new rules, it will be mandatory to list all sub-ingredients of 
compound ingredients, which means that allergens cannot be "hidden". One 
example of this is sauces that might contain allergenic ingredients like 
eggs, milk or mustard. Previously such sub-ingredients did not have to be 
listed if they were part of a compound ingredient that made up less than 
25% of the product, whereas now all such allergenic ingredients will have 
to be declared.

In addition, some labelling exceptions will no longer be accepted for 
allergens. Previously it was possible to declare ingredients only as a 
category (e.g. "vegetable oil"), whereas the new rules will require the 
source to be indicated for all allergenic ingredients so that for example 
"peanut oil" must be specified. Similarly, the source of a natural flavour 
such as a nut will have to be indicated, while it is currently labelled 
only as "natural flavour".

Alcoholic beverages were previously exempt from ingredient labelling. The 
new rules will require all ingredients that are on the list of allergens to 
be declared so that for example sulphite present in wines will have to be 
indicated. Sulphites are additives used as preservatives in many 
foodstuffs, including wines, beer and cider. Many people suffer from 
intolerance to sulphites with symptoms such as asthma attacks, which may 
have serious consequences.


In the White Paper on Food Safety, the Commission announced its intention 
to propose an amendment to the Labelling Directive 2000/13/EC, especially 
the "25% rule", which means that components of compound ingredients which 
form less than 25% of the final product need not be indicated on the label. 
This 25% rule was introduced into Community legislation more than 20 years 
ago in order to avoid inordinately long lists of ingredients. It is based 
on the principle that the consumer knows the composition of compound 
ingredients and can therefore deduce, for example, that jam added to 
biscuits is prepared with fruit and sugar. This percentage will be 
abolished with the new proposal.

However, since then, food production has become more and more complex, and 
people eat a lot more processed foods. Over the past few years, consumers 
have repeatedly expressed the wish to be better informed about the 
foodstuffs they purchase, and specifically about their composition, even if 
full ingredient labelling will inevitably make ingredient lists longer. The 
many recent food scares have reinforced this need for information.

Information is particularly important for consumers who suffer from 
allergies or adverse reactions to certain substances. The proportion of the 
population with food allergies or food intolerance is increasing all the 
time (according to the allergy associations 8 % of children and 3 % of 
adults are affected) and new allergens are emerging. These allergies not 
only cause illnesses, often of a chronic nature (e.g. atopic dermatitis, 
urticaria, digestive symptoms), but can also provoke life-threatening 
reactions (asthma, anaphylactic shock). For these people the lack of 
detailed information is a handicap, in that they are never sure that the 
product they are buying does not contain the allergen that can provoke an 
adverse reaction. Allergic consumers therefore need to have complete and 
precise labelling and the new proposal provides for that.

The new requirements have been drafted with certain de minimis provisions 
to avoid absurdities or over-regulation, to prevent the risk of labelling 
becoming too complex, and to take account of the technical constraints 
associated with the manufacture of foodstuffs.The additional labelling 
requirements will enter into force after a transitional period to allow 
companies to bring product labelling into line with the new provisions.

The Parliament introduced amendments that increase the level of information 
for the consumer, thus improving the proposal. The Council's common 
position paves the way for the Directive to enter into force, once it will 
have been accepted by the Parliament in a second reading, expected in early 
2003. Member States then have one year to transpose the Directive after 
which a one-year transition period is granted to manufacturers in order to 
modify the labelling of their products. If these steps move smoothly, 
consumers will see the concrete results of this Directive on their shelves 
in 2005.


List of potential allergenic ingredients to be labelled: - Cereals 
containing gluten and products thereof - Crustaceans and products thereof - 
Eggs and products thereof - Fish and products thereof - Peanuts and 
products thereof - Soybeans and products thereof - Milk and dairy products 
(including lactose) - Nuts and nut products - Celery and products thereof - 
Mustard and products thereof -Sesame seeds and products thereof -Sulphur 
dioxide and sulphites at concentrations of more than 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/liter

(1) Directive 2000/13/EC OJ L 109, 6.5.2000


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