Allergen labelling review launched by Government

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

The law currently does not require allergen labelling for prepacked direct for sale foods sold by food business operators
The law currently does not require allergen labelling for prepacked direct for sale foods sold by food business operators
A hotly anticipated allergen labelling consultation has been launched by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The move follows last year's inquest​ into 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse's death in 2016, triggered by an allergic reaction to sesame after eating a Pret A Manger baguette. In accordance with current law, which relies on customers consulting staff, the ingredient was not listed on packaging.

Concluding the inquest, coroner Dr Sean Cummings said he would write to environment secretary Michael Gove, asking him to address gaps in food labelling regulations for foods prepacked direct for sale (PPDS)

Four alternatives

The consultation​ concerns amendments to the domestic Food Information Regulations 2014 (FIR) (England) and parallel FIR regulations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It focuses on PPDS foods and proposes four alternatives for consideration:

  • option 1: promote best practice (no change in law)
  • option 2: add 'ask the staff' stickers to packaging, staff would have to provide information orally and in writing if asked
  • option 3: label food with the name of the food and list allergens
  • option 4: label food with name of food, full ingredients list and with allergens emphasised

DEFRA, the Food Standards Agency in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Food Standards Scotland, and the Department for Health and Social Care are working on the review together.

'Natasha's law'

Announcing the consultation and signalling that revised legislation, which he dubbed 'Natasha's law', should be introduced, Gove said: "Natasha’s parents have suffered a terrible loss, and I want to pay tribute to Nadim and Tanya for their inspirational work to deliver Natasha’s law. We want to ensure that labels are clearer and that the rules for businesses are more consistent – so that allergy sufferers in this country can have confidence in the safety of their food.

"Many businesses are already bringing changes on board independently, and in the meantime they should continue doing all they can to give consumers the information they need."

Carla Jones, chief executive of charity Allergy UK, said: "We welcome this announcement and the commitment shown by the Environment Secretary on this issue. At Allergy UK we believe that while those living with allergies must be vigilant on their own behalf, the broader food industry needs to do more than just the bare minimum when it comes to catering for the allergic community.

'Awareness crucial'

"Allergy is undoubtedly on the rise, which is why awareness is so crucial. In the UK, about ten people die every year from food-induced anaphylaxis, there are also about 1,500 asthma deaths, some of which might be triggered by food allergy.

"For those at greatest risk, the tiniest trace of food allergen can trigger severe symptoms and, in some cases, cause fatal or near-fatal symptoms. We encourage all those living with allergies to engage with this consultation to ensure their views on this important issue are heard."

FSA chairman, Heather Hancock said: “It’s really important that people take this opportunity to have their say, especially those living with a food allergy or intolerance. Clear, accurate and visible allergen labelling is vital to protect the thousands of people at risk of allergic reactions, when buying their daily sandwich, salad or snack to eat on the go. Food businesses have a duty to protect people with food allergies and we welcome the real progress that many have made.

"This review is looking at whether businesses should do more to keep their customers safe. We all deserve food we can trust, and I encourage everyone to let their voices be heard.”

'Duty of care'

Food Standards Scotland’s chief executive Geoff Ogle said: ​“This is an important opportunity for people to have their say. It’s a matter that affects thousands of people at risk of allergic reactions daily, who have to be particularly careful when eating outside of the home. Food businesses have a duty of care to protect people with food allergies and many have made real progress to do so. 

“This review is about what more can be done to keep their customers safe. Everyone with a food allergy should have the information they need to stay safe, and I encourage everyone to give their views.

 “After the consultation, all responses will be shared and considered by Food Standards Scotland’s Board alongside the other agencies involved. We will then provide independent advice to Scottish ministers to consider the next steps.”

Scotland's public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “Allergen information is important for the protection of the health of consumers who suffer from food allergies. The Scottish Government welcomes this consultation and we look forward to considering the responses that come forward.”

Closes 29 March

The consultation​ is open to businesses, consumer groups, enforcement authorities and members of the public and closes on 29 March.

In its announcement on the consultation's launch, DEFRA stated: "It is very important that consumers are provided with accurate information about allergenic ingredients in products to allow them to make safe food choices. Continuing fatalities and effects on public health have raised the issue of whether the current regulatory framework for the provision of allergen information for PPDS foods is sufficient to give consumers the information they need to make safe food choices.

"Through this consultation we are seeking views on non-regulatory and regulatory policy options to improve the provision of allergen information to consumers for PPDS foods."

The announcement has been welcomed by the Anaphylaxis Campaign. "The Anaphylaxis Campaign believes that food allergic individuals must be able to make informed decisions and to assess risk and self-manage their condition when eating out. 

"We hope all food business that sell food pre-packed for direct sale engage with this consultation to ensure that feasibility across all business sizes is taken into consideration. We also hope food allergic individuals actively take part in this consultation and share their views on how they want this incredibly important information shared with them."

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