Permissive, rather than precautionary, allergen labelling may be more help to people with food allergies


Professor Katie Allen from the Melbourne-based Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has called for an Australia-wide uptake of the Allergen Bureau’s Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling (VITAL®) risk assessment program for packaged foods. She has also suggested food labelling could be expanded to include “permissive labelling” to inform food allergic consumers whether a product was safe for them to eat. This follows a recent survey of packaged foods.

The survey looked at the allergen risk assessment processes of companies representing 454 different manufacturing sites across Australasia. Food assessed in the survey included cereals, breads, pastas, tinned food, biscuits and lollies.

Results showed 30 per cent of edible packaged goods on supermarket shelves had been assessed and found to contain no food allergens but did not feature an advisory label to indicate this. Products that had not undergone any assessment were also without advisory labels, meaning food allergic consumers were unable to tell which products were safe to eat.

At the same time, Professor Allen has reiterated the need to reduce over use of precautionary allergen labelling practices. In a previous study of supermarket snack products, she found 95 per cent of products had some form of precautionary labelling. Of around 250 products labels saying ‘may contain traces of’ analyses found only three contained detectable levels of food allergens, and these were at a level unlikely to cause reaction. This alleged overuse of precautionary allergen labelling restricts the number of products deemed safe to eat, leading to greater risk-taking among food allergic consumers who choose to ignore these labels.

Professor Allen and her colleagues plan to meet later this year with food industry representatives to endorse a national uptake of VITAL.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 2017.

Allergen Bureau Note: The opinions expressed in this article by Professor Katie Allen are her own. They do not represent the opinions of the Allergen Bureau or the VITAL Scientific Expert Panel.