Whilst food labelling on manufactured foods appears detailed, it still does not identify every allergenic component within the product. This is because current labelling regulations in some countries permit the manufacturer to use class or generic ingredient names, such as vegetable oil, and not always to have to list the individual components of compound ingredients if they are present in small quantities.

The increased awareness of food allergy and intolerance in recent years has led to considerable discussion regarding the labelling of allergens. In Europe these discussions are ongoing and as yet there is no mandatory requirement for the labelling of allergens. Some major companies in the UK have started to declare the presence of allergenic components on a voluntary basis, but this varies from company to company in terms of which minor ingredients are always identified.

Identifying problem-causing ingredients in foods can therefore be extremely difficult and it was for this simple reason that food intolerance databanks were set up - to assist intolerance sufferers in identifying foods that were safe to consume and so aid in the management of food intolerance.

There remain, however, very few food intolerance databanks in existence. The first to be established was the ALBA databank in the Netherlands, and this remains the largest and most comprehensive system in the world. The setting up of ALBA was followed by the UK Food Intolerance Databank and, since 1996, a number of smaller databanks have been set up in other parts of Europe. They are still the exception rather than the rule, however, and the fact remains that in many countries the intolerant are offered very little or no dietary support.

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