Federal food labelling rules to call out allergens, gluten

Canada’s food manufacturers have until August next year to rework their product labels to clearly declare “hidden” allergens, gluten and sulphites.

Ingredient displays on food labels will then be required to separately list any such items in plain terms at the end of the usual list of ingredients and separately prefaced by the word “Contains,” as in “Contains: Wheat, Milk.”

The new rules, laid out in a release Monday, will also require manufacturers to list components of their ingredients if they contain food allergens, gluten sources or sulphites.

Thus, if a prepackaged food contains “spices” as an ingredient, that food will be required to list any allergens, gluten sources or sulphites present in those spices.

“Canadians with food allergies, sensitivities and celiac disease will soon be able to make more informed choices about the foods they buy,” Health Canada said in a release Monday.

The rule will require a food allergen or gluten source to be written in commonly used words such as “milk” or “wheat.”

Therefore, a common name for a plant source of hydrolyzed protein will have to be declared, such as “soy,” or “hydrolyzed vegetable protein (soy)” but not just “hydrolyzed vegetable protein.” Spelt and kamut, both known as “heirloom” cereal grains, will be declared as “wheat.”

Furthermore, mustard seed will be added to the regulatory definition of a food allergen, Health Canada said.

Fining agents, such as egg white used to reduce certain types of tannins in wines, would have to be declared if they’re made from food allergens and are present in the finished wine or spirits.

Also, the source of any allergen or gluten present in wax coatings or their compounds would be required to be shown on the label of prepackaged fruits and vegetables, Health Canada said.

Sulphites present at levels above 10 parts per million will be treated the same as other allergens and use of a separate “Contains” statement will be optional, Health Canada said.

Products exempt from the new rules, unless those products already include a list of ingredients, will include foods packed at bulk outlets (except mixed nuts); individual portions served at restaurants, mobile canteens or automatic vending machines; and meats barbecued, roasted or broiled on retail premises.

Prepackaged beer, ale, stout, porter and malt liquor will also be exempt. Bourbon whisky, vinegars and “standardized” alcoholic beverages won’t need a list of ingredients but will need a “Contains” statement declaring allergens, gluten and sulphites on their labels.

The new rules won’t apply to food allergens or gluten that might be present in a prepackaged product due to cross-contaminations, which Health Canada said are “unique issues… beyond the scope of this regulatory initiative.”

“Quality of life”

The long lead time for the labelling change is due to the “complexity” of the changes and the long shelf life of processed foods. The label requirements are to come into force Aug. 4, 2012.

Meanwhile, Health Canada added, it’s “encouraging industry to declare allergens, gluten sources and added sulphites to provide Canadians with the information necessary to make informed food choices.”

While Health Canada expects the new regulatory amendments will come at cost for governments and the food industry, they’re also expected to reduce “adverse reactions” in consumers, translating to reduced costs to the health care system and for individuals with food allergies, celiac disease or sulphite sensitivity.

With those in mind, a net positive impact of $69.3 million per year is expected over the 10 years following the amendments coming into force, on top of “increased quality of life” for people with food allergies, celiac disease or sulphite sensitivity.

“All parents want to have confidence in the food they are serving their families, and these changes to food labels will make it easier for parents of children with food allergies to identify potentially harmful, if not fatal, ingredients in foods,” Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in Monday’s release.

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