Finally – have your say (though it may change jack shit)

Almost a year ago now I wrote a post about looming changes to the laws on food allergy labelling.

New EU regulations set to come into effect in December 2014 state that allergen information should be extended to non-prepacked foods – that means that restaurants, delis, cafes etc will be made to comply.

The catch is, however, that it is up to each individual European country to decide exactly how to implement the proposals. And I for one am desperate to avoid the same mess we’re in with allergen labelling in shops: that is, the manufacturers slapping on ‘may contain’ warnings willy-nilly without ever getting to grips with the issues of cross-contamination and actually doing something practical and helpful about it.

Anyway, today the Government announced a public consultation on the new regulations. On the plus side, this gives us – people who live with food allergies day in, day out and know how current labelling laws do more to protect the manufacturers than they do to actively help the consumer – the chance to have our say.

On the down side, judging by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ publications on the matter, the issue of allergen labelling is way down their agenda compared to the accompanying changes that will come into effect relating to the labelling (nothing to do with allergens) of alcohol, ice creams, cheese and minced meat.

I’m still wading through all the bumf but below I’ve reprinted the new regulation as far as it relates to food allergy. It’s in Section 5 of the draft paper published here. As far as I can gather, it means that a food business operator selling prepacked, non pre-packed, or ‘packed on site’ food can choose how they want to convey allergen information. It can be verbally, on a label attached to the item or on a “notice, menu, ticket or label” positioned where the customer can clearly see it. If they choose to convey the info verbally there should be a notice stating that a member of staff can provide details of all ingredients. At least, that’s what I think the situation is, though I’m in the process of double-checking…

Foods that are not prepacked etc. containing an allergenic substance or product etc.

5.—(1) A food business operator who offers for sale a relevant food to which this regulation applies may provide the particulars specified in Article 9(1)(c) in relation to that food in any manner that they choose, including, subject to paragraph (3), orally.

(2) This regulation applies to a relevant food that is offered for sale to the final consumer or to a mass caterer otherwise than by means of distance communication and that is—

  1. (a)  not prepacked;
  2. (b)  packed on the operator’s premises at the consumer’s request; or
  3. (c)  prepacked for direct sale.

(3) Where a food business operator intends to provide the particulars specified in Article 9(1)(c) relating to a relevant food orally, they must indicate that details of the Annex II substance or product used as an ingredient or processing aid in the manufacture or preparation of the food, or derived from such a substance or product, can be obtained by asking a member of staff.

(4) The indication mentioned in paragraph (3) must be given—

  1. (a)  on a label attached to the food; or
  2. (b)  on a notice, menu, ticket or label that is readily discernible by an intending purchaser at the place where they choose that food.

(5) In relation to a relevant food to which this regulation applies, the Article 9(1)(c) particulars provided by a food business operator must be provided with a clear reference to the name of the substance or product listed in Annex II.

(6) In this regulation “relevant food” means a food in which an ingredient or processing aid listed in Annex II, or derived from a substance or product listed in Annex II, has been used in its manufacture or preparation and that is still present in the finished product (even if in an altered form).

Now I may have got this wrong but it seems to me that the regulations are in danger of changing precisely jack shit.

Currently, you can find allergen warnings in most places, or signs suggesting you should consult a member of staff. Other than extending this practice to a few more local caffs and delis, I fail to see how it can truly offer greater information to those suffering from food allergies. Again, I imagine we’ll just see a whole heap of extra notices warning: “We cannot guarantee no traces of nuts.”

Frankly, that’s crap. I plan to respond to the consultation as soon as I’ve got all the details – and as soon as I have, I’ll post back here to let you know where we’re at.

2 thoughts on “Finally – have your say (though it may change jack shit)

  1. I think it does mean that it will cover situations in cafes/delis like you say, where the child sees the same kind of biscuit/cake they eat safely elsewhere and don’t understand why they can’t have one. When you ask the member of staff, I get frustrated by the response being ‘we didn’t put any nuts/x/x in it, but we can’t guarantee that the ingredients we used didn’t have any nuts/x/x’. The worse response is when it looks fresh and then they say ‘I’ll check the packet’. Sometime I think we are able to give our children much healthier food by being sure what’s in it. Although I wish there were more hours in the day to bake and more recipes I could find!

  2. Pingback: Is it nuts to ban gluten? On changes to the allergy labelling laws | yesnobananas

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