Pre-packaged food delivered to stores already has to list full ingredients on labels - but new laws could extend to include products made and packaged on-site
The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) wants a full list of ingredients to be displayed on labels for pre-packed sandwiches, salads and snacks made in cafes and stores to give consumers greater confidence in what they eat.
The non-governmental organisation has given its recommendation to the government on how it believes labelling laws should be extended to display allergen information on more products sold on the same site in which they were made.
It follows a nine-week consultation that was launched after the death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered an allergic reaction from sesame in a Pret a Manger baguette at Stansted Airport in 2016.
FSA chairwoman Heather Hancock said at the organisation’s extraordinary board meeting yesterday: “Food allergies and intolerance affects millions of people and its impact can be as big or bigger than almost all other food-borne diseases.
“That is why we have concluded that more extensive food labelling is the right outcome to provide greater protection for consumers but introduced in a way that we can be confident will work.
“While it is impossible to eliminate the risks entirely, we consider that this change along with other measures we are prioritising will deliver more effective protection for allergic consumers.”
Feedback from the consultation on food ingredient labels
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) outlined four options for the FSA to consider in the consultation. These were:
- Option 1: The promotion of practice measures – a non-legislative option, this would not introduce a legal requirement to strengthen the provision of mandatory allergen information
- Option 2: “Ask the staff” labelling with supporting information in writing
- Option 3: Mandatory naming of 14 specified allergens on food packaging
- Option 4: Mandatory naming of the full ingredient list on the food labelling, with allergens emphasised.
Over the course of its own consultation into food labelling, the FSA spoke to 1625 individuals, 126 businesses, 83 public sector bodies and 29 non-governmental organisations to garner feedback on these options.
According to a report the FSA released alongside its response, about 90% of individuals it consulted believed that all businesses, regardless of size, should be required to implement some sort of change.
The approach was split among businesses, with 80% of medium and large firms showing support for consistency, as opposed to 40% of small companies.
A small majority of businesses and public sector bodies identified options two and three as their preferred legislative options, with most NGOs identifying multiple options and option four as their preferences.
Some 73% of individuals identified option four as their preference.
The FSA report concluded by saying the consultation had shown people who are hyper-sensitive to allergens have a strong desire to see rapid and demonstrable improvements in allergen labelling.
However, it also stated there would be a significant challenge involved in moving to full ingredient labelling for both businesses and local authorities.
Response to potential food ingredient labels legislation
Carla Jones, CEO of British charity Allergy UK, has welcomed the announcement from the FSA and says she will push Defra to implement the policy.
She said: “We are delighted with the news that the FSA backs mandatory full ingredient labelling for pre-packed direct sale food and will be recommending this measure to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
“At Allergy UK, we believe that the food industry needs to do more than just the bare minimum when it comes to catering for the allergic community.
“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.
This move towards full ingredient labelling for pre-packed direct sale food will improve the lives of the allergic customers and is one that is very much welcome here at Allergy UK.”
But Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade association UKHospitality, believes that while the safety of consumer safety is important, fully listing the ingredients is not the answer.
She said: “Creating an atmosphere where customers and staff feel confident discussing allergens is the best way to ensuring safety.
“The government should not act on the FSA’s recommendations. Full listing of ingredients is going to cause significant issues for businesses.
“Full labelling may also create a reliance on labelling that could prove to be less safe.
“There is the possibility of mis-labelling and no accounting for cross-contact, which can’t be totally avoided.
“Not only is full ingredient labelling wholly impractical for some businesses, it may provide customers with a false sense of security.
“The best way to keep customers safe is by empowering them to talk to staff members with confidence that the information they receive is accurate and useful.
“We should not be discouraging customers from discussing allergens by relying on labelling alone.”