Health Canada

Health Canada

September 26, 2007 11:57 ET

Health Canada Reviewing the Use of "May Contain" Allergen Statements on Food Labels

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Sept. 26 ,2007) - Health Canada is reviewing its policy on the use of precautionary statements for food allergens such as "may contain ..." and other similar label statements to provide better information to the consumer. These statements are used by industry to identify when priority food allergens may have unintentionally been introduced into foods during the manufacturing process.

It is estimated that as many as 1.2 million Canadians suffer from food related allergies. In addition, it is estimated that 1 in 133 people are afflicted with Celiac disease. For these people, a precautionary statement can be an important tool to help them choose foods that will not trigger their food allergy or sensitivity.

However, since these statements were first introduced in 1994, there has been a dramatic increase in their use and in the variety of statements being used by industry to identify the potential presence of allergens in food. Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have heard from consumers who have indicated that their level of confusion related to these statements is on the rise. This could lead to the statements being ignored and consumers eating foods that could trigger very serious and even life threatening allergic reactions.

The policy review (www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/label-etiquet/allergen/precaution_label-etiquette_e.html) will focus on the labelling of the substances most frequently associated with food allergies and allergic-type reactions. These substances, often referred to as priority food allergens, include peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, soy, milk, eggs, fish including crustaceans and shellfish, wheat and sulphites.

The policy review will also identify specific statements that industry could use on food labels, as well as their conditions of use. Stakeholders will be consulted to ensure that any changes will provide consumer with better information to help them prevent allergic reactions.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is also issuing a Notice to Industry (www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/invenq/inform/20070925e.shtml) regarding precautionary statements to food manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers to ensure that the foods they sell are safe for all consumers, including those with food allergies. The notice will recommend that industry begin implementing proposed changes to precautionary statements immediately, to mitigate specific risks identified for food allergic Canadians, even while the policy review process is underway.

More information on Health Canada's activities related to food allergies can be found at: www.healthcanada.gc.ca/foodallergies.

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