Defra announces proposals to overhaul allergen labelling

The Environment Secretary has published plans to overhaul labelling laws to provide consumers with clearer information on the food they buy.

Subject to a consultation, Michael Gove MP has published plans which would see food outlets selling pre-packaged food directly for sale required to follow new rules designed to give the UK’s two million food allergy sufferers greater confidence in the safety of their food.

Under current rules, food prepared on the premises in which it is sold is not required to display allergen information on the package – but the proposed rules could go as far as seeing full ingredients labelling required by law.

The moves follow the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, the teenager who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette.

Gove explained: “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.”

Food businesses and allergy sufferers are now being invited to have their say on four options put forward to improve the way allergy information is provided for these foods.

Foods Standards Agency Chairman, Heather Hancock, added: “It’s essential for those of us with a food allergy or intolerance to know that we can trust the food we eat. Accurate and reliable labelling is vital, and this consultation is firmly aimed at improving the confidence we have in it. In recent years, choice, trust and availability has really improved for people with food allergy. We want those improvements to continue, so it’s important that we hear from everyone affected, as part of this consultation. We’re determined to keep on making life better for you.”

Carla Jones, CEO of Allergy UK, continued: “We welcome this announcement and the commitment shown by the Environment Secretary on this issue. At Allergy UK, we believe that whilst 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. We encourage all those living with allergies to engage with this consultation to ensure their views on this important issue are heard.”

In other labelling news, new research has revealed that UK consumers are seeking clarity from retailers as one in four poeple purchase foods excluded from the diet due to poor labelling.

According to Spoon Guru, 55 per cent of UK consumers have unintentionally consumed food restricted from their diet, with the number one reason being that over two thirds (70 per cent) of respondents have been served the wrong food as an error by the waiting staff in bars and restaurants. Meanwhile, 42 per cent listed poor food labelling as the second most common reason for purchasing incorrect products.

Furthermore, 99 per cent of UK consumers believe retailers have a responsibility to be transparent about food ingredients, regardless of current legislation, 94 per cent support new regulations concerning better food labelling and 83 per cent of UK consumers believe technology will play a key role in improving food ingredient transparency.

The worst affected were those trying to reduce salt, fat or sugar intake, with 55 per cent saying they suffer the most from vague or non-existent ingredients labelling when trying to find the right products. Additionally, 70 per cent of shoppers with severe allergies or intolerances indicated that they struggle to identify the right food for their dietary needs (53 per cent for vegans specifically).

The data is calculated relative to the population.

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