Plain English labelling of food allergens must be improved

A 2010 review of the regulatory management of food allergens by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) highlighted that terminology used to make allergen declarations on foods may not always be easily recognised or understood by food allergic consumers. FSANZ undertook further investigations into this issue and identified four key problems with the terminology currently used. These are set out in the full report of the review which has recently been released.

The review found that, in most cases, plain English terminology is being used to declare allergens on Australian and New Zealand foods. Despite this, some specific situations were found where labelling information on what allergens are in a food was not clear or consistent, potentially putting food allergic consumers at risk. FSANZ state in their report that this problem is primarily due to a lack of standard practices for declaring allergens and a lack of clarity in the Food Standards Code as follows:

  • The lack of standardization across allergen declarations is resulting in the use of unfamiliar and unrecognisable terms, particularly those made in the ‘contains’ statement. Further investigation of possible options is required for standardising the use of plain English terms acrossall allergen declarations made on food labels
  • The requirements of Standard 1.2.3 need to be clear that the presence of individual cereals (wheat, oats, rye, barley and their hybrids) and individual tree nuts are to be declared, and not declared using collective terms.
  • Clarifying the Code so that the presence of gluten is declared separately from declarations about the presence of specific cereals in the food, would address the ambiguity associated with declaring these cereal allergens and food substances which cause severe reactions through food intolerances
  • The Code needs to be clearer in respect to the terms ‘fish’/‘finfish’, ‘crustacea’ and ‘molluscs’ for allergen declaration purposes
  • The requirements of Standard 1.2.3 need to make it clear that molluscs or products of molluscs in a food are to be declared separately from ‘fish’.

Addressing the problems will require amendments to the Food Standards Code and, as such, will require further work and consultation, with consideration and evaluation of different options to determine how to best standardise the use of terms for allergen declarations.

Read the full report of the review and supporting documentation on the FSANZ website.

The newly published VITAL Best Practice Labelling Guide for Australia and New Zealand seeks to address some of the issues identified in this review.