The EC situation

Currently, under EC labelling legislation, there is no need to make a specific declaration in respect of the presence of potential allergens, although product liability laws might influence a decision to make such a declaration. However, the need for such information to be covered by food labelling legislation, in line with current Commission intention, is now widely recognised.

A further amendment to Directive 79/112/EEC is already under discussion, which would concern the labelling of potential allergens when present as ingredients. In the opinion of the European Commission, the consumer does not receive detailed information about the exact composition of the foodstuff he or she is buying, owing to the compound ingredient provisions, although he or she can still make an informed choice. However, the lack of such detailed information can be problematic to those with allergies or intolerance to certain substances, who need as much information about the product as possible. Although it is recognised that labelling for consumers in general must not be considered as the only source of information available, as the medical establishment is key in this respect, it is advisable to assist those with allergies or intolerance as much as possible by making more comprehensive information about the composition of products available to them. Therefore, it is considered necessary that certain substances recognised scientifically as being the source of allergies or intolerance be included in a list of ingredients and not qualify as exceptions under the general labelling Directive. The Commission recognises that Member States can take their own action concerning foods sold in bulk or foods served in catering establishments. As the Directive does not apply to non-prepacked foods, the introduction of the amending Directive in due course will still mean that consumers need not be informed under EC law if non-prepacked foods contain potential allergens.

The document currently under discussion is the draft proposal for a European Parliament and Council Directive amending Directive 79/112/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs, Document III/5909/97, dated 6 January 1998. Under this proposal, the following ingredients will be required to be declared on a label, whatever their level in the food:

• Cereals containing gluten and products of these

• Crustaceans and products of these

• Eggs and egg products

• Fish and fish products

• Peanuts and products of these

• Soyabeans and products of these

• Milk and milk products (lactose included)

• Tree nuts and nut products

• Sulphite in concentrations of at least 10 mg/kg. Gluten-free foods

Under EC Directive 89/398/EEC, as amended, foods for particular nutritional uses, or PARNUTs foods, are defined as foods that, owing to their special composition or manufacturing process, are clearly distinguishable from foodstuffs for normal consumption, which are suitable for their claimed nutritional purpose and which are marketed in such a way as to indicate suitability. Currently, there are nine categories of PARNUTs foods listed in the annex to this Directive, one of which is gluten-free foods. The intention was originally to establish detailed compositional and labelling requirements on each of these categories of foods; however, only certain categories have so far been regulated in this way and there is ongoing discussion as to whether gluten-free foods and the other remaining categories should be included under the scope of this Directive at all. If a decision is taken to remove gluten-free foods from a PARNUTs classification, it would probably be considered that labelling provisions would be an adequate means of control.

Therefore, it is up to the Member States at this time to determine to what extent labelling of allergens and ingredients likely to cause hypersensitivity is required.

UK labelling

There are, currently, no specific provisions under UK legislation concerning the labelling of potential food allergens. The Food Safety Act 1990 requires that food be of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser and comply with food safety requirements. In addition, labelling must not be misleading to the consumer.

The Food Labelling Regulations 1996, SI 1996 No. 1499, control the mandatory labelling requirements for foods. These implement the general provisions of 79/112/EEC, but there are no specific references to the labelling of allergen ingredients. However, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) drew attention to the labelling of food containing nuts in draft guidance notes to the 1996 Regulations; the draft notes recommended that if the presence of nuts was not clear from the product name, the ingredients list or the way in which the food was presented, an appropriate warning should be given on the label, for example a 'contains nuts' declaration placed prominently on the label or a new recipe declaration, which would warn the consumer to look at the ingredients list more closely. These comments never reached the final published version of the guidance notes, possibly owing to developments at EC level being awaited. In the UK at this time, some manufacturers choose to give a declaration such as 'contains nuts' or 'may contain traces of peanuts'; provided the general requirements of the Food Safety Act and the Food Labelling Regulations are not contravened, such labelling can be acceptable.


There are no guidelines or regulations on the labelling of foodstuffs that may cause allergens, or substances that may cause a hypersensitive reaction. The Federal Ministry of Health has indicated that it welcomes the efforts now underway to deal with this issue, but does not plan at present to draw up any specific provisions. As in other countries, statements such as 'does not contain nuts' could be a problem under product liability laws.


In contrast, Sweden is an EU Member State with detailed guidelines on allergen labelling. Under the Swedish labelling regulations, the compound ingredient rule in the EC general labelling Directive 79/112/EEC is applicable. However, if the compound ingredient is listed only with its name, it is desirable that ingredients that may cause hypersensitivity reactions are always stated in the list of ingredients. Examples of such ingredients given in the 1997 Guidelines on the Labelling of Foods are gluten-containing grain, eggs, milk, fish, nuts, leguminous plants (e.g. soyabeans, peanuts and peas), and sulphite. For example, the labelling could be given in the form 'margarine (contains milk)' or 'mayonnaise (with eggs)'. Although some consumers may be aware that these foods are likely to contain such components, others may be less so. It is also recommended that the same guidance is applied to additives that may cause hypersensitivity reactions, i.e. they should always be declared in the list of ingredients - for example antioxidants, colours and preservatives. Although additives are declared in compound foods if they have a technological effect in the final foods, if they are present only by carry-over and are not technologically effective, then their declaration is not required under current laws.

An amendment to the Swedish labelling laws, dated 1995, included changes to the guidelines on the use of certain claims. It is now stipulated that labelling may not contain expressions, symbols or other information suggesting that ordinary foods are intended for particular nutritional purposes. 'Naturally gluten-free', 'free from milk', 'without soya' and 'suitable for allergenics' are given as specific examples of expressions that should not be used on ordinary foods. Symbols with such meaning should also not be used.


The Finnish labelling regulations include certain requirements for the declaration of potentially allergenic ingredients, as part of the provisions regarding the declaration of compound ingredients. A compound ingredient may be declared by its own name, provided that the list of its own ingredients and additives immediately follows this name. If the compound ingredient represents less than 25% of the final product, of the ingredients used, at least the 'active' additives and those ingredients that can produce symptoms of hypersensitivity in an individual using the foodstuff must be declared. The following at least must be declared in this respect: peas, fish, eggs, milk, soyabeans and crustaceans, and products manufactured from them; peanuts, almonds and nuts; and oats, barley, rye and wheat.

The problem of allergenic and hypersensitivity reactions is an international one, and this is reflected in provisions in certain other major international markets.

Why Gluten Free

Why Gluten Free

What Is The Gluten Free Diet And What You Need To Know Before You Try It. You may have heard the term gluten free, and you may even have a general idea as to what it means to eat a gluten free diet. Most people believe this type of diet is a curse for those who simply cannot tolerate the protein known as gluten, as they will never be able to eat any food that contains wheat, rye, barley, malts, or triticale.

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