New York Petitions Fda On Food Allergies

Attorney General Spitzer and Attorneys General from eight other states today issued a formal request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to institute reforms aimed at reducing the number of cases of illness and death caused by severe food allergies.

"People with severe food allergies have extraordinary difficulty determining whether everyday foods are safe for them or their children to eat," said Spitzer. "I am petitioning the federal government to require that food manufacturers label their products to allow allergic consumers to know which products are safe for them and which should be avoided."

Approximately five million American suffer from food allergies, the most common being peanut and tree nut allergies. Eating foods that contain even traces of these ingredients can lead to health problems ranging from itchiness and skin rashes to anaphylactic shock, which can lead to death.

Key components of Spitzer's food allergy petition to the FDA include:

  • Creating a symbol -- a circled letter 'A' -- to be prominently displayed on the upper right front corner of food packages. The symbol will alert consumers that the product in the package contains allergenic substances such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans, mollusks, wheat and soy beans;
  • Establishing a toll-free hotline where consumers can obtain reliable food ingredient information;
  • Specifying on food labels when allergenic ingredients are used even in small amounts that are currently designated as "insignificant levels;" and,
  • Establishing food industry guidelines to prevent the migration of allergenic ingredients from one product to another during food processing and preparation.

Some 125 Americans die each year from food-induced allergic shock. Children are the most susceptible to food allergens because they are the least able to protect themselves and they can also be sensitive to a wider array of allergenic ingredients than adults.

In December 1998, a 17-year old Schenectady County girl attending a party died of anaphylactic shock shortly after eating party mix snack food containing trace amounts of peanut oil.

"Current regulations make it very difficult to have faith in what foods I buy for my daughter," said Lori Ira of the New York Nut Allergy Awareness Group. "Even the slightest contamination can make a food deadly for someone with food allergies. Until better regulations are put in place I know that my daughter is at risk for another life-threatening reaction."

Food allergy sufferers and their parents report that trips to the grocery store can be frustrating and seem endless because they must closely inspect the fine print on the ingredient labels of each food package to determine whether or not they contain potentially dangerous allergens.

"The proposals I have made to the FDA would allow people with food allergies to locate and select safe foods," said Spitzer. "That will reduce the incidence of illness and death resulting from inadvertent consumption of food that can trigger severe allergenic reactions."

The petition grew out of research by the science staff of the Attorney General's Environmental Protection Bureau in Albany in consultation with food allergy sufferers, experts in the field and several food allergy awareness organizations including the New York Nut Allergy Awareness Group.

The states of Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming also joined in the FDA petition.