Meng Demands FDA to Not Compromise Those with Food Allergies During COVID-19

Jun 10, 2020
Press Release
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) announced today that she sent a letter to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn urging him to reverse his agency’s decision that permits companies to make minor ingredient changes without having to revise the corresponding food label because of COVID-19. The FDA announced the decision on May 22.
While this decision is temporary and reflects supply disruptions and shortages for some ingredients, it still exposes those with existing food allergies to unnecessary risk.
“The FDA’s decision to allow food companies to substitute some ingredients for others without having to make changes to the food label is wrong and must be reversed,” said Meng. “People with food allergies rely on accurate food label information and failing to notify them about a small ingredient change to a product could have disastrous health consequences. As we continue to combat COVID-19, we must ensure people can continue to buy food without having to worry that it may contain an ingredient they are allergic to. Without doing this, the FDA’s temporary decision may inadvertently send more people to the emergency room, causing greater duress of our health care system that is already strained by COVID-19. The FDA must reverse course now.”
A copy of Meng’s correspondence can be found here, and the text is below.
The Honorable Stephen Hahn, MD
Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20904
Dear Commissioner Hahn,
I write to you days after the culmination of Food Allergy Awareness Week to urge you to reverse the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to allow temporary flexibility regarding labeling requirements for foods during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While I appreciate your goal to adjust regulatory policy in order to minimize disruptions in supply chains during this pandemic, these flexibilities must not be implemented at the expense of American lives. Those with severe allergies rely on accurate ingredient lists on food labels; even an ingredient that is present in less than 2 percent of a food product can result in life-threatening anaphylactic shock. For example, as your Administration’s guidance suggests, if canola oil may be substituted for sunflower oil with no change in labeling, those with sunflower seed allergies can face unexpected and increased risk.
Individuals with food allergies are already hypervigilant about their food consumption – but this has never been more necessary than during a pandemic. After all, a hospital visit for a food allergy poses enhanced risks for patients; this can also divert critical hospital resources from those battling COVID-19.
I urge you to immediately reinstate previously existing food labeling requirements. I look forward to your swift action and response.