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Consumers don't 'see' precautionary food labels; 'packaged in a facility that also packages peanuts' may be ignored.

SAN DIEGO -- Since the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 took effect last year, 64% of consumers who need to avoid purchasing food allergens have noticed major food allergens added to ingredient lists. Yet 25% of these consumers are likely to purchase food products that contain precautionary allergen statements, such as "manufactured in a facility that also processes milk" or "packaged in a facility that also packages peanuts or other nuts."

The finding is important because there has been no formal assessment of consumer response to the labeling act, which mandates that food manufacturers disclose major allergens on lists of ingredients but does not establish standards for the use of "may contain" or other advisory statements, Dr. Scott H. Sicherer said at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

In a study led by his associate, Dr. Heather Lemon-Mule, the researchers surveyed 645 parents of children with food allergies and others who attended 2006 Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) meetings in New York, Baltimore, and Chicago. The majority of respondents were parents of children with food allergies, said Dr. Sicherer, of the department of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York.

More than half of respondents (64%) reported noticing that major food allergens have been added to ingredient lists, whereas 18% were unaware of such changes to food labels. The allergen they noticed most often on ingredient lists was milk (61%), followed by peanuts (55%), tree nuts (38%), egg (31%), wheat (21%), soy (21%) and "other" (6%).

More than one-fourth of respondents (28%) contacted food manufacturers to ask about allergens added to ingredient lists. Yet in fewer than half of cases (46%), manufacturers told them that that the allergen was a newly added ingredient.

At the same time, 83% of survey respondents reported noticing that new precautionary labels about allergens statements such as "may contain milk or milk products" and "packaged in a facility that also packages peanuts"--began to appear on products. The allergen they noticed most often on precautionary labels was peanuts (84%), followed by tree nuts (67%), milk (59%), egg (45%), wheat (35%), soy (35%), and "other" (14%).

Overall, 20% reported contacting food manufacturers to ask about precautionary labels, yet only 14% of manufacturers said that the addition of such labels were directly related to product formula changes.

Of the study respondents, 75% said they would never purchase a product with a precautionary label specific to their own food allergy concern. However, the type of wording used on the label appears to affect purchasing behavior. For example, about 91% would not purchase products that have the words "may contain" or "may contain traces of" on the label. That response fell to 85% for statements such as "manufactured with the same equipment as," to 70% for statements such as "manufactured in a facility that also processes," and to 65% for statements such as "packaged in a facility that also packages."

"Consumers are increasingly ignoring these precautionary food allergy labels," said Dr. Sicherer, who is a member of FAAN's medical advisory board. "They may be fooling themselves. The implication is that we need to continue to monitor these label disclosures."

He acknowledged that a key limitation of the study was its reliance on self-reported data.

BY DOUG BRUNK

San Diego Bureau
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Title Annotation:Clinical Rounds
Author:Brunk, Doug
Publication:Pediatric News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2007
Words:553
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