Insights

Food Law Update: Australia 12 Sep 2018 Changes to allergen labelling requirements in Australia and New Zealand

This article focuses on two developments: lupin labelling and the review of allergen labelling conducted by FSANZ

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Lupin labelling

What you need to know

  • Allergen labelling for lupin is now mandatory in Australia and New Zealand. 

What you need to do

  • Food producers should ensure that all packaging for food products sold in Australia and New Zealand, including for products currently on the shelf, contains the mandatory declaration for lupin. 

Review of allergen labelling

What you need to know

  • Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) is conducting a review on allergen labelling to make declarations clear and consistent for consumers. 

What you need to do

  • Food producers should be aware of the review, and be prepared to make changes to their allergen declarations to ensure compliance with any new requirements arising from the review.

According to the New South Wales Food Authority's Allergen Survey Report 2018, food allergies are on the increase and the most common reason for food recalls both in Australia and internationally is caused by failure to include allergen labelling on food products. These concerns are reflected in FSANZ's ongoing consideration of allergen labelling on food products. This article discusses two developments in this area:

  • new mandatory labelling for lupin; and
  • proposed amendments to allergen labelling requirements to ensure clarity and consistency. 

Allergen labelling for lupin 

On 26 May 2018, mandatory allergen labelling for lupin came into force in Australia and New Zealand.

Lupin is a legume, related to peanuts and soybeans, which is often ground into a flour and used in baked goods or pasta. Lupin is becoming increasingly popular due to its high protein and dietary fibre, and low fat and carbohydrate contents. 

FSANZ amended Standard 1.2.3 of the Food Standards Code (Code) in May 2017, to include lupin as one of 11 ingredients that must be declared on food labels, along with peanuts, eggs, milk, sulphites, cereals containing gluten, crustacea, fish, soybeans, sesame seeds and tree nuts.

The amended Standard makes it clear that products should be labelled where lupin may be present as:

  • an ingredient or compound ingredient; 
  • a substance used as a food additive; or
  • a substance used as a processing aid. 

However, the Standard remains silent (consistent with labelling for other allergen foods) about the requirement to label where there may be an unintentional presence of lupin in food, for example, arising due to cross contamination.

The amended Standard is now in force, and requires all food products containing lupin to be labelled, including products that are already on the shelf.

 

Plain English allergen labelling (PEAL) review

FSANZ is considering a proposal to make mandatory allergen labelling clearer and more consistent for consumers.  The Code already contains a mandatory requirement to declare the 11 allergens listed above on food labels (Standard 1.2.3), but is silent about the form of the declaration.  

The current proposal builds on two previous reviews, conducted in 2010 and 2015.  The 2010 review concerned how specific categories of food are defined in allergen labelling, while the 2015 review focused on PEAL. 

Proposed amendments

FSANZ has proposed a number of amendments to the Code to mitigate five key issues:

1. Labelling for fish, crustacea and mollusc

Finfish, shellfish, mollusc and crustacean allergies are all different, raising concern that consumers may not be aware of the use of crustacea or mollusc when allergen labelling is limited to "contains fish". FSANZ has proposed amending the Code:

  • to require molluscs to be declared separately from fish; and
  •  clarify the definition of "fish" in the Code (Schedule 10) by specifying if it includes "crustacea" and "molluscs" or only finfish.

2. Catch-all labelling for "tree nuts"

Both manufacturers, who are unclear which ingredients should be declared as "tree nuts", and consumers, who may be unable to identify the specific tree nut source (ie almond or pine nut) have raised concerns about use of the catch-all term "tree nuts". Currently, specific tree nut sources may be listed in the ingredients list, but industry practice is inconsistent. FSANZ has proposed specifically declaring each tree nut implicated in food allergies, aligning the Code with the approach taken in the European Union, the USA and Canada.

3. Declaration of wheat and cereals containing gluten

The Code currently does not distinguish cereals associated with allergies and cereals associated with gluten intolerance conditions (including coeliac disease). The current proposal is to separately declare wheat (and hybrid wheat strains), irrespective of the existence of gluten. FSANZ has sought input on whether simply referring to "gluten", where present, is clearer for consumers.

4. Standardisation in terms used

FSANZ has proposed mandatory use of PEAL to make allergen declarations clear and unambiguous. FSANZ has indicated that the failure to use plain English terms, (ie "milk" instead of "sodium caseinate") may put consumers at risk.

5. The use of the "contains" statement

At present, the use of "contains" statements on food labels (eg "contains gluten and peanuts") is voluntary and not always consistent from product to product. FSANZ is seeking input on whether to mandate the use of a "contains" statement. If consumers are unaware that "contains" statements are voluntary, there is a risk they may mistakenly assume that products which lack such a statement contain no allergens. Consumer feedback has indicated that "contains" statements are an effective allergen labelling tool for consumers.

Status of review

FSANZ is currently reviewing submissions from industry and consumers in response to the proposal, after which it will provide a second consultation paper, including draft amendments to the Code.

Food producers should stay abreast of this review and be prepared to change allergen labelling on packaging to comply with any new requirements. FSANZ has indicated it will accept submissions in response to the second consultation paper which is likely to be released in early 2019. The final recommendations are expected in 2020.

 

Authors: Anna Seddon, Lawyer and Joanna Lawrence, Counsel

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The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to. Readers should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.

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