Enjoy Life(R) Foods CEO Tells FDA Grocery Stores Remain A Dangerous Minefield for Food Allergic, Food Intolerant and Celiac Shoppers
At the invitation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Scott Mandell, CEO, President and Co-Founder of Enjoy Life Foods, the country’s leading manufacturer of allergy-friendly and gluten-free foods, provided comments at a public meeting on the use of advisory labeling of allergens in foods. Mandell cautioned that current labeling regulations are not sufficient to adequately protect food-allergic, Celiac and other special diet consumers.
Speaking on behalf of the American Celiac Disease Alliance (ACDA) and Enjoy Life Foods, Mandell said, “The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) was an important first step in helping special dieters get the critical information they need to make informed food choices. However, despite the industry’s best efforts at truthful food labeling, grocery stores are still a dangerous minefield for food-allergic, food-intolerant and Celiac shoppers.”
Today’s public meeting by the FDA is the first step in developing a long-term strategy to assist manufacturers in using allergen advisory labeling that is truthful and not misleading, conveys a clear and uniform message, and adequately informs food-allergic consumers and their caregivers. To that end, FDA solicited comments and information to determine 1) how manufacturers currently use advisory labeling, 2) how consumers interpret different advisory labeling statements, 3) what specific wording is most effective in communicating the likelihood that an allergen may be present and 4) whether consumers find advisory labeling helpful in making food purchasing decisions.
According to Mandell, “Advisory warnings are confusing, inconsistent and do not provide adequate information in order for the millions of Americans who must follow special diets due to food allergies, food intolerances, Celiac Disease, autism and other health concerns to make smart and, most importantly, safe food choices.” He went on to point out that gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye, is not currently required to be listed on FALCPA-compliant labels, making it difficult for those with Celiac Disease or a gluten intolerance to obtain critical ingredient information. He explained that the FDA is expected to announce a definition for “gluten-free” soon.
Mandell cited further evidence that current advisory labeling does not provide useful and clear information for consumers. Almost 50 percent of food-allergic people have reported having serious problems using food labels to help them avoid eating certain foods (source: FDA). It’s no wonder, as the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) has documented over 30 different advisory warnings on food products. Mandell explained that in the absence of clear standards for advisory statements, consumers are making their own risk assessments based on the various warnings. For example, some food-allergic shoppers may incorrectly assume that one food is safer than another based on its label and accompanying advisory warning. Others may unnecessarily avoid eating a particular food due to the advisory statement. Yet others may assume that the warning is added due to liability or legal reasons and not due to real safety issues.
In his comments, Mandell commended the FDA on its commitment to develop labeling that is truthful, not misleading, clear and uniform, and that adequately informs special diet consumers; however, he explained that he strongly supports the development of consistent, risk-based guidelines for the use of advisory statements by food manufacturers. He also said that he:
— Supports more stringent enforcement for manufacturers who do not comply fully with FALCPA regulations
— Recommends the development of a free, comprehensive consumer database of mislabeled or misleading food products
— Feels the FDA should consider implementation of a third-party allergy certification system to identify those manufacturers following ‘safe’ procedures and standards
The American Celiac Disease Alliance (ACDA) began to take shape in early 2003 when an ad hoc group of 15 leaders in the celiac community came together to help persuade Congress to require food labels to include information about allergens. The group’s efforts were instrumental in the passage of landmark legislation, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act. The non-profit organization provides leadership on policy issues affecting the lives of individuals with celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disorder affecting children and adults. The ACDA is recognized internationally for its role in advocating on behalf of all segments of the celiac community. For more information, visit www.americanceliac.org.
About Enjoy Life Foods
Enjoy Life Natural Brands, LLC (d/b/a Enjoy Life Foods, LLC (ELF)) was founded in 2001 with the mission of making great-tasting allergy-friendly foods that most everyone can eat freely. The company launched the Enjoy Life brand in 2002 with a broad product line that is free of the eight most common allergens and gluten-free. To meet the needs of a rapidly growing consumer base, in 2004 the company acquired Perky’s(TM), a line of gluten- and nut-free cereals. Today, ELF offers 29 different Enjoy Life and Perky’s products that are sold in natural food and select grocery stores throughout the United States and Canada. Visit www.enjoylifefoods.com and www.perkysnaturalfoods.com for store locations and more. In September 2008, Enjoy Life Foods was named for the second consecutive year to Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing privately held businesses in the U.S. For more information, visit www.enjoylifenb.com.