Thursday, April 16, 2009

Vague food labels leave parents frustrated about food allergens

Being diagnosed with a food allergy not only affects the life of that individual, but it also affects the way their family eats, shops, and lives. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 3.9% of children (approximately 3 million) in the US have a food allergy and reports are on the rise. From 1997 to 2007, reports of food allergies in children under 18 have risen 18%.

The most severe and life-threatening allergen is peanuts. According to Dr. Evan Matheson, an allergist, peanut allergies were uncommon when he started his practice in 1982. Recently, Dr. Matheson says, "I saw seven in a week."

What does this mean for food producers and supermarkets?

A federal law was passed in 2006 instituting labeling for products that contain common allergens. Unfortunately, there is still confusion. Manufacturers are placing vague warnings like "may contain" or "manufactured in a facility that processes" allergens. These labels leave consumers confused and frustrated.

For Michelle Fogg, mother of a daughter with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, and mustard, her first shopping trip after her daughter's diagnosis was traumatic. She said, "I left the store crying because everything has a warning on it."

Some parents feel that the "may contain" label is too broad. Scott Mandell, founder and CEO of Enjoy Life Foods, believes that labels need to be standardized. Mandell has turned parents' frustration with vague labels into a business. Enjoy Life Foods produces allergen-free cookies, granola, and other snacks. "When you read a lot of ingredient labels in the market, there are certain ingredients being used where you need a degree in chemistry to really know what this is--and what allergens might this product have in it. You read our ingredient labels, you understand what our ingredients are," says Mandell.

food allergies article

As an ag business owner, do you have allergen warnings on your food products? Would you like to see these labels standardized? Is the increase in children with food allergies a business opportunity for you? Would you consider making "allergen-free" products?

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