With the coronavirus now being a part of life in the United States for about half a year, life as we know it has changed completely. Quarantining oneself is now an expectation, and masks are now a necessary part of daily life. My own life was turned upside down by this pandemic, and I doubt that life as we know it will return to how it was for a very long time. One thing I hadn’t thought of during the start of the pandemic was the food industry, but it appears it has been just as affected. All of a sudden, companies are finding it hard to acquire the ingredients they need to make their products. This is only natural, as the flow of ingredients is bound to be interrupted by a global pandemic, but it makes it almost impossible for many companies to adhere to their ingredient lists when supply chain issues have rendered those ingredients unobtainable.
In comes the FDA with the perfect solution, forget the ingredient list. That’s right, on the 22 of last month, the Food and Drug Administration announced a temporary new rule that allows companies to substitute up to two percent of their ingredients without being required to change their label. As a personal fan of reading the label before I eat virtually anything, I can’t help but feel like this has made that ritual useless. What’s the point of reading the label when there could be just about anything in what I’m eating?
Personally, I’m fortunate, as some of my allergens lie within the top eight food allergens in the United States (peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish). The FDA made sure to state that substituting anything that brought allergen concerns was prohibited and referenced the top eight allergens. This means that, despite the fact that certain substitutions could be made, I don’t have to worry about nuts winding up in my peanut free cookies, as that would be an illegal substitution. However, the concern now lies with those allergies outside of the top eight allergens. Those are less protected under this new law, and there’s no telling where each individual company is going to draw the line on what they will decide to replace their ingredients with. I myself have other allergies that aren’t encompassed within the top eight, which has given me some cause for concern. I could read a label or eat a prepared dish with ingredients that aren’t actually included in the safe label and end up having a life-threatening reaction.
While I understand the reasoning behind this, I feel like the way this was executed was lazy at best, and just plain negligent at worst. While changing the physical labeling each time something is substituted is probably an unrealistic solution, there would be next to no difficulty to keep an online database with these changes. The FDA could easily distribute stickers or some sort of labelling for companies to apply to products with substituted ingredients. It took me two minutes to think of better ways to handle this problem than the current steps being taken, so I have no doubt that, if work was actually put into this law, some sort of solution could be reached that satisfies everyone, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen.
To those with allergies that are uncertain of their safety eating certain foods, the best course of action I would recommend taking would be to call the individual manufacturing plants that your food comes from, as they would know best what, if anything, is being substituted. I know for a fact that my mom has been calling nonstop to ensure that everything I put in my mouth is safe, and I feel so lucky to have my parents prioritizing my safety even now as an adult. Please remember to stay safe during these troubling times.
Until next time,