The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has changed the labeling rules for food for the fifth time since the Covid-19 pandemic began.  This time the change allows manufacturers to substitute ingredients without changing the information on the label.  This gives people with food allergies concern. The FDA says that a manufacturer may swap secondary ingredients so long as the stand-in “does not cause any adverse health effect (including food allergens, gluten, sulfites or other ingredients known to cause sensitivities in some people, for example, glutamates).”   Food safety advocates are sounding the alarm however. “We have no objection to temporary flexibilities in this moment, but we view with suspicion the notion that you’d want to continue those after the emergency,” says Laura MacCleery, policy director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “They say they will take comments and consider an extension beyond the public health emergency.”

Other changes that have been “temporarily” enacted include allowing vending machine operators to omit calorie information from their packaging.  It also allows restaurants to omit the information from their menus walking back hard fought efforts to make eating on the go healthier.   Changes have been made to allow the sale of prepackaged food with no nutrition information at all by restaurants.  So you may not be able to find out if that side of chips or container of juice contains allergens or other ingredients you may not want to consume.  Eggs are also now allowed to be sold with no labeling.   The reasoning behind many of the changes is to allow food that would normally sold directly to restaurants to be sold in retail stores.  But for the estimated 32 million people in the United States with food allergies, “the devil is in the details,” Dave Bloom, chief executive of SnackSafely, a food allergy organization. “The guidance goes on to introduce numerous loopholes that are of concern to members of the food allergy community.”  

The major concern among food industry watchdogs is the ambiguous language of many of the new rules.  They fear the “temporary” rollbacks will become permanent.  “Our intention is to hold the FDA to a calendar so that these changes aren’t permanent,” MacCleery said. “The important thing is everybody know, and it be clear, that after this emergency is over that these regulations that have been the subject of so much public effort and deliberation come back into play. This shouldn’t be a reason things get watered down permanently.”

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