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FDA relaxes food label rules, raising concerns for food allergies

Posted August 26, 2020 1:38 p.m. EDT
Updated August 26, 2020 6:33 p.m. EDT

In May, the FDA began temporarily allowing packaged food manufacturers to substitute ingredients without changing the labels. This change was meant to help manufacturers during ingredient shortages caused by the pandemic –but the change also means you might not know exactly what’s in the next product you eat.

This new policy is raising concerns, especially for people who are allergic or intolerant to one of the substitute ingredients.

“There is real confusion about this temporary policy," said Rachel Rabkin Peachman, a spokesperson for Consumer Reports.

Right after the announcement, parents, individuals and numerous consumer advocacy groups launched a petition, according to Peachman.

Concerned individuals also sent letters and posted comments to the FDA demanding more transparency about food labels.

In response, the FDA said none of the substituted ingredients can be one of the top eight food allergens without disclosing it to consumers.

Beyond those eight allergens, however, the guidance is more vague.

“For other foods that are known to cause allergies, the FDA says manufacturers 'should avoid' using them as substitutes. But saying 'should' leaves it up to the manufacturer to decide what’s safe to substitute," said Peachman.

There are many people with allergies or sensitivities to rare ingredients that manufacturers might not know to consider, according to Peachman.

Consumer Reports is not aware of companies taking advantage of the temporary policy, but families need to be aware of the new policy – and that there is no word of an end date.

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