Referred to as The Food Allergen and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), the new legislation - to take effect from 1 January 2006 - would require that food manufacturers identify, 'in plain, common language', the presence of any of the eight major food allergens - milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy.
"Over eleven million Americans live in fear of eating the wrong food with every bite they take. This bill will enable them to trust that ingredient labels are accurate," said Todd J. Slotkin, chairman of the Food Allergy Initiative that led the effort to push the bill through Congress.
The new US rules do not go as far as the new European food allergen legislation, which enters into force in November this year and for which food manufacturers will have to list 12 potentially allergic ingredients. The allergens include cereals containing gluten, fish, crustaceans, eggs, peanuts, soy, milk and dairy products, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame seed, and sulphites.
The new EU rules mean these foods will have to be listed clearly on labels whenever they are used in pre-packed foods, including alcoholic drinks. Labels will also need to give clear information about ingredients made from these foods, for example a glaze made from egg.
But like the new European directive (Directive 2003/89/EC, amending Directive 2000/13), which means manufacturers will have to list all sub-ingredients of compound ingredients, the new US allergen will require the end to 'hidden' or undeclared ingredients.
Food labels will have to indicate the presence of major food allergens used in spices, flavourings, additives, and colourings, which had previously been exempt from allergen labelling.
Consumer support groups hailed the clearing of the rules as a victory. "The health and safety of millions of Americans with allergies depends on their ability to understand the information and know there are no 'hidden' or 'undeclared' allergens in the product," said Anne Munoz- Furlong, CEO and founder of FAAN.
The new US rules also require that the Food and Drug Administration conduct inspections and issue a report within 18 months to ensure that food manufacturers are complying with practices 'to reduce or eliminate cross-contact of a food with any major food allergens that are not intentional ingredients of the food'.