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Labels On Food: Many Products To Include Allergen Ingredients

08/03/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 10/02/2012 05:12 EDT
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OTTAWA - Canadians will soon notice some additions to the labels on packaged foods they find on grocery store shelves _ changes designed to better protect people with allergies.

New federal food labelling regulations are to take effect across the country on Aug. 4, requiring manufacturers to clearly identify the presence of ingredients that could cause an allergic reaction.

Some companies have already been identifying "plain language" ingredients in their products voluntarily. Now, it will be mandatory.

Health Canada lists 10 "priority" food allergens in the regulations, including peanuts, eggs, milk, tree nuts, wheat, soy, sesame seeds, seafood and sulphites. Mustard was also recently added to the list.

Industry organization Food and Consumer Products of Canada says its members have worked with the government over the past 18 months to ensure that food labels are comprehensive, easy to read and their products are safe.

"The changes are an example of how collaboration between industry, government and stakeholders result in benefits for consumers," the organization said in an emailed statement.

The changes are being welcomed by Anaphylaxis Canada, an advocacy group for people with food allergies.

The organization says for people with a potentially life-threatening food allergy, the new information will be critical.

"All Canadians have a right to know what the ingredients are in the food products they are buying”, said Laurie Harada, executive director at Anaphylaxis Canada, who pushed for the new regulations.

“For people with a potentially life-threatening food allergy, this information is critical,” said Harada, who has a teenager with multiple food allergies.

Roughly 2.5 million Canadians have reported having at least one food allergy. Anaphylaxis is considered the most serious form of allergic reaction.

The regulations will require food manufacturers to clearly identify not only common food allergens, but gluten sources and sulphites.

They can be identified in the list of ingredients, or in a statement that begins with the word "Contains."

The clearer labels will be especially useful to people with celiac disease, an auto-immune condition that affects the gastrointestinal system.

An estimated 1 per cent of Canadians suffer from celiac disease, an inherited disorder that causes people to feel sick shortly after eating foods containing gluten.

Ingesting gluten isn't immediately life-threatening, but exposure to the grain-based protein over a long period of time could lead to serious illness such as cancer and osteoporosis.

The inclusion of gluten in labels is one of the biggest changes in the regulations because it's considered as a "hidden" ingredient in many foods.

Gluten can be found in seemingly benign ingredients that are currently listed under names such as plant protein, artificial or natural flavour and even "spices."

The Canadian Celiac Association says the new regulations mean specific limits are placed on the maximum amount of gluten present in foods as a result of accidental contamination.

As well, ingredients derived from wheat that don't contain gluten protein, such as glucose syrup derived from wheat, will be permitted in gluten-free food.