The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Recognizing the critical impact of food allergies on some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, earlier this year the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific published ‘Food allergies – Leaving no one behind’.
The booklet explains that it is important to manage food allergies within local contexts and helps countries to understand what allergens are common in a particular population, what foods need to be labelled in different parts of the world, and how to determine the allowable quantities of food allergens to meet global food safety standards.
International standards exist for the labelling of food allergens, and Codex Alimentarius requires its members to comply with those. However, the food allergens recognized by Codex may not necessarily cover the whole list of food allergens that have an impact on different populations.
Priority-setting is crucial because it is not realistic to list everything on food labels. The booklet illustrates some examples of current practices to establish labelling regulations for food allergens, with a focus on Japan – the first country to establish a national regulation to address the topic.
The process of establishing the list of food allergens that require labelling, as well as the process to establish the maximum limits of allergens in pre-packaged foods, is provided as an introductory example. The booklet also lists practical recommendations for food safety authorities to manage food allergies, such as identifying a mechanism to monitor common food allergens, holding regular discussions with food businesses on food labelling with allergen information, supporting research on diagnostic tools and educating the general public on food allergies.