A new Dutch allergen policy will apply as of January 1, 2024. The low Dutch threshold values from 2016 have been replaced by new, higher values. Rules for warning on the label about the possible and unintended presence of allergens have also been tightened. This is expected to reduce the number of warnings.
The new allergen policy applies to pre-packed foodstuffs, has been established by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) and all products must comply with the new rules by January 1, 2026 at the latest. The new policy is based on intensive consultation between government, food industry and patient organizations (Food Allergy Foundation, Dutch Celiac Association, ProVeg Netherlands and Dutch Anaphylaxis Network) and has been enthusiastically received by all these parties.
Significant increase in threshold values
The new threshold values for allergens are almost all significantly higher than before and are based on advice from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). For example, the threshold value for peanut has been increased from 0.015 mg to 2 mg per dose and for milk from 0.016 mg to 2 mg. The threshold values have been determined on the basis of the FAO-WHO rule that a maximum of 5 percent of people with food allergies may experience a (mild) reaction when eating a product with an allergen content below the threshold value. The patient organizations involved in the allergen policy support this policy. With this new policy, the Netherlands is ahead of agreements yet to be made in Europe and the rest of the world. It is expected that these new threshold values will be established at international level (Codex Alimentarius) within a reasonable period of time.
Less frequent allergen warning
The starting point in establishing the new policy was that warnings for the possible and unintended presence of allergens – Precautionary Allergen Labeling – may only be used if there is actually a risk for people with a food allergy. Previously, these warnings were used frequently, because manufacturers were allowed to choose what to put on the packaging and when. This gave the impression that manufacturers wanted to cover themselves with warnings. Patient organizations have emphasized that cautious use is necessary to maintain credibility. In the new policy, the risk must be demonstrable, which means that the use of warnings for safety reasons is no longer permitted. In addition, warnings will be needed less often by increasing the threshold values.
No more “May contain traces”.
The only words that may be used as warnings are: “May contain X” and “Not suitable for X”. Other words such as “May contain traces of X” or “Made in a company that also processes X” are no longer permitted. Moreover, the patient organizations have expressed their preference for “May contain X”. They believe that individual consumers should be able to make their own risk assessment as to whether a chance of presence is acceptable to them. They find “Not suitable for X” too restrictive. A contamination above the threshold value does not mean that the product is unsuitable for everyone with that allergy.
Sources: Allergen consultancy and Food Allergy Foundation