UK proposes tougher food labelling laws

Nestlé disclosing suppliers as it targets full supply chain transparency
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Proposals have been launched in the UK with the aim of overhauling labelling laws and providing consumers with clearer information on their food and drink purchases.

Under the new proposals launched last week by Environmental Secretary Michael Gove, food outlets selling pre-packaged food directly for sale could be 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 premise 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.

Research from Mintel found that only 37% of consumers agree that it is easy to identify which allergens a product is free from by its label.

Almost half (48%) of Brits are unsure whether or not allergen labels are clear, and a further 15% actively disagree that this is the case.

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.

“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,” said Mr Gove.

“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.”

The proposed reforms cover labelling requirements for foods that are packed on the same premises from which they are sold – such as a packaged sandwich or salad made by staff earlier in the day and placed on a shelf for purchase.

Currently, these foods are not required to carry labels, and information on allergens can be given in person by the food business if asked by the consumer.

Food businesses and allergy sufferers are being invited to have their say on four options put forward to improve the way allergy information is provided for these foods. The consultation can be responded to here.

Food Standards Agency Chairman Heather Hancock said: “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.”

The Environment Secretary and Food Minister David Rutley met allergen groups and retailers late last year to discuss the proposed options around allergen labelling laws.

The Environment Secretary has also met the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse to discuss their campaign for a change in food labelling laws.

A number of food businesses have already begun to implement changes to their provision of allergen information and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) will continue to provide food businesses with guidance on allergens.

In September the FSA launched Easy to Ask, a campaign to empower young people to ask food businesses about allergens when eating out so they can make safe food choices.