The US senate has passed new food labelling legislation aimed at protecting consumers who have food allergies.

The bill, which will now go before the House of Representatives, will ensure that ingredient statements provide clear information about contents containing major food allergens such as milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.

The Food Allergen Labelling and Consumer Protection Act, if passed by the House of Representatives, would take effect 1 January 2006 and would not exempt spices, flavourings, colourings and other additives that contain a major food allergen.

The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) welcomed the senate's passing of the bill, calling it "an important step forward in providing clear, consistent and reliable ingredient label information".

"Those with food allergies depend upon the ingredient label to make decisions that impact their health," said Anne Munoz-Furlong, FAAN's founder.

"Inaccurate and confusing ingredient labels have caused reactions as some labels are incomplete, or misleading. FAAN applauds this groundbreaking legislation as a major step forward for the 7 million Americans who must avoid food allergens," she added.

The National Food Processors Association said many companies are already providing allergen information on food labels.

"The Senate-passed provisions related to allergen labelling, in part, reflect what many companies already are doing. Nevertheless, it is our hope that as this legislation continues to move through the process, further modification will make it more functional for industry and consumers alike," said Tamara Somerville, senior vice president of government affairs for the NFPA.