retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Chicago Tribune reports that the mislabeling of food products is causing life-threatening and avoidable allergic reactions in American children.

The paper ran its own investigation and reports that “in effect, children are used as guinea pigs, with the government and industry often taking steps to properly label a product only after a child has been harmed.

“ The Tribune investigation revealed that the government rarely inspects food to find problems and doesn't punish companies that repeatedly violate labeling laws. In disclosing ingredients, labels must clearly identify major allergens such as peanuts, milk, eggs and wheat. Millions of parents, teachers and baby-sitters scrutinize these labels to ensure that they are not giving children unsafe food.

“But an alarming number of products sold as allergen-free actually contain harmful amounts, the Tribune found. Many of the problems occur with foods marketed to children--candy, cookies, cakes and ice cream. Iconic childhood favorites such as Oreos, Pop-Tarts, Frosted Flakes, Jell-O and Campbell's Spaghettios have been recalled for hidden allergens in recent years. ”

The bottom line: “ An estimated 30,000 Americans require emergency-room treatment and 150 die each year from allergic reactions to food. A large percentage were children, researchers say … The newspaper found that roughly five products a week are recalled because of hidden allergens, making it one of the top reasons any consumer product in America is recalled … The Tribune examined 260 complaints to the FDA since 2001 where people with known food allergies - many of them children who had to be treated at hospitals - reported a reaction from products they claimed were mislabeled. Yet just 7 percent resulted in recalls.”

KC's View:
The broad point made being made in the article is that the food industry and the government are culpable for allergy-related maladies being suffered by many children, and that they are both guilty of being less than vigilant about the ingredients included in their products and less than transparent about recalls.

If this kind of attitude gains any traction, it will almost certainly result in calls for greater legislation and government oversight – which are more likely to be implemented now than in recent years with the swearing in of a new Congress and administration. Which means, it seems to me, that the food industry has to address these issues and complaints quickly and comprehensively…and, where necessary and appropriate, introduce new voluntary safeguards that could preempt government intervention.