Concerns raised over FDA’s COVID-19-related relaxation of labelling requirements

The Food and Drug Administration in the USA has issued guidance to food manufacturers to provide temporary regulatory flexibility in food labelling requirements under certain circumstances. This is designed to help minimise the impact of supply chain disruptions associated with product availability due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manufacturers now have the flexibility to use existing labels without making otherwise-required changes when making minor formula adjustments due to unforeseen shortages or supply chain disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The labelling flexibility only applies where the temporary formulation modifications do not pose a health or safety issue and do not cause significant changes in the finished food. Specifically, the ingredient being substituted for the labelled ingredient must not cause any adverse health effect, including food allergens, gluten, sulphites, or other ingredients known to cause sensitivities.

Consumer groups have responded to the guidance saying this degree of flexibility brings increased risk for people with food allergies. They are also disappointed the guidance was introduced immediately and without any public consultation. The FDA maintains they determined prior public comment was not feasible or appropriate in the COVID-19 public health emergency situation.

The full Guidance document can be downloaded from the FDA website. Published responses include an opinion piece by Dr Gary Stadtmauer, an allergist-immunologist in New York City, and information provided to consumers by the organisation SnackSafely.com.