US – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed exempting an ingredient derived from a major food allergen if the protein has been eliminated or altered to the point where it no longer poses a risk to a person.

Current legislation in the US requires foods to declare the presence on the product label of what it calls “major food allergens,” such as milk, sesame, eggs, fish, tree nuts, crustacean shellfish, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.

The US agency proposed that an ingredient could obtain an exemption by submitting scientific evidence to the agency.

Food allergens are an increasingly bigger issue for U.S. consumers to worry about in the items they buy.

In 2013, the CDC published a study showing food allergies among children increased about 50% between 1997 and 2011.

According to CDC data, shellfish at a prevalence of 3% is top food allergy in adults followed by dairy allergy at 1.9%.

Peanut allergy with a prevalence of 1.8% closes the top three list of most prevalent allergens in the US.

Impact of legislation

As more shoppers worry about allergens in the foods they eat, the latest proposal from the FDA could give food manufacturers some wiggle room when it comes to the ingredients they use.

An estimated one in four Americans, or 85 million people, spend $19 billion annually to avoid purchasing products with the top nine allergens, according to research published earlier this year by Food Allergy Research & Education.

The data also found 53% of those surveyed want clearer food allergen labeling to identify the presence of milk, egg, soy, peanut, wheat, fish, shellfish, tree nuts and sesame. 

Allowing ingredients considered a major allergen into food as long as the part that causes harm to humans is no longer prevalent could allow consumers to enjoy food and beverages they enjoy.

For example, if part of an ingredient that people are allergic to, such as lactose, is removed, consumers could still drink the milk.

This also could reopen markets for dairy, nut, egg and other producers who have seen consumers turn away from their products because of the growing risk of an allergic reaction.

As the free-from movement gains momentum among companies and consumers, the FDA could suddenly give more options to millions of people.

The biggest hurdle may not be enacting the rule, but having scientists figure out ways to remove the risky portion of the ingredients and ensuring that consumers who try them are kept safe.

Companies also would need to be especially vigilant that the risk-free ingredient doesn’t get accidentally mixed with the traditional one into their products.

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