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Food Allergy Labeling

Ottawa Acts on Allergen Labeling

This article was published in the Fall 2008 issue of Allergic Living. The regulations as of January 2011 still haven’t become law despite the former Health Minister Tony Clement’s promise.

Long-awaited legislation that requires manufacturers to clearly list any of 10 priority allergens on food packages will soon be a reality.

“This clearly affects literally millions of Canadians in one way or another,” Health Minister Tony Clement said in an interview with Allergic Living. “Either people suffering from allergies or celiac disease, or parents who are trying to do the best for their kids who have these kinds of issues.”

Clement announced the new labeling regulations in July 2008, shortly after a campaign in which almost 4,000 people e-mailed a letter, posted at Allergicliving.com, to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The letter urged the government to champion the proposed new rules, noting their importance in the lives of millions of Canadians, and reminding that they had been ready but stalled since 2006.

While Clement didn’t expressly comment on the letter campaign, he did take the time in his address to “thank the moms and dads who have been pushing for this improvement.”

When the law takes effect, companies will be required to list priority allergens in plain language on packaging, and the components of ingredients will have to be specified if they are priority allergens (tree nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, eggs, milk, soybeans, crustaceans, shellfish, fish, wheat and gluten sources. Sulphites will need to be listed when more than 10 parts per million of a product.

While it could be up to 18 months before the regulations are in place – there is a process for public comment until late October, followed by an implementation period – Clement made an appeal to the food industry to begin working on the changes immediately.

He also told Allergic Living that he is committed to putting these rules into force. “I wanted to make sure we had money in the budget so the Canadian Food Inspection Agency had the money to inspect and enforce these labeling requirements. That was the final piece of the puzzle. I knew once I got that commitment then I could make an announcement, and it would be a serious announcement.”

Food allergy and celiac disease groups and the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI) have lobbied for this legislation for years. Until now, labels listing scientific names, generic terms such as “spice” and “natural flavour,” and allergens hidden in ingredient components could make shopping perilous for those with allergies and celiac disease.

While the allergy community is applauding Clement’s actions, there has been some criticism that the finished regulations don’t address the “may contain” statements on many food labels. Anaphylaxis Canada said it will “continue to work with Health Canada and other stakeholders to address these and other food labeling issues.”

From the Fall 2008 issue of Allergic Living magazine.
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- Read about the new regs. at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s site.
- View the discussion about the letter-writing campaign in our Talking Allergies forum here.

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Allergic Living acknowledges the assistance of the OMDC Magazine Fund, an initative of the Ontario Media Development Cooperation.