IN RESPONSE to the flurry of concern on Twitter and in Blogland over these new allergy labelling regulations, the Food Standards Agency’s Head of Allergy Branch Sue Hattersley has posted a response. You can find it here.
I’ve had a read through and I’m afraid I’m still not convinced.
1. She notes that the ‘contains x’ allergy boxes have never been compulsory and have sometimes included errors, meaning the ingredients list and the allergen box are contradictory. As allergic consumers we are well aware that the warning boxes are not obligatory – but my response is, why not make them so? And if there were errors before what is to stop there being errors in the new system?
2. She notes that the British Retail Consortium has issued guidance to UK manufacturers on how best to emphasise allergens within the ingredients list. Find the guidance here. In fact, this does nothing to allay my fears over inconsistency in how allergens will be highlighted. It leaves it up to the manufacturer to decide how best to do this (in bold, italics, underlined etc). While some will adopt best practice and no doubt make allergens stand out beautifully, others will think that italicising a few words within a long list is enough. It won’t be. See the comments from readers of my previous blog post for some serious concerns.
3. On the plus side, she notes that the new rules will be EU-wide and that is a good thing. At least we are left in no doubt as to whether allergens have to be declared when we are studying labels in other European countries. I welcome this standardisation across countries.
4. She insists that the compulsion to provide allergy info in restaurants, cafes and delis is “good news”. In honesty, I can’t see that much will change if retailers can deliver that information verbally and not necessarily in clear written format – too much room for error, here. I will feel no safer ordering food from a cafe or deli with this guidance than I do now.
5. Finally, she adds:
“If a business does decide to give information orally this will have to be backed up by good allergen control processes and staff knowledge, and these can be checked by local authority enforcement officers.”
In theory this is great but in reality it means very little. What are “good allergen control processes”? Is it obligatory for all food retail staff to undergo standardised training? When will they be checked by enforcement officers? When things go wrong? I am afraid I don’t have full faith in local authority enforcement either. One allergy friendly food producer I know was recently told by her local authority officer that she was “too cautious” about potential cross contamination. I wasn’t aware there was such a thing as ‘too cautious’ in this context.
Sorry to say, Food Standards Agency, I’m still not with you on this.