The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (“DEFRA”) has announced a consultation regarding proposed changes to allergen labelling laws for food prepacked for direct sale in the UK.
This follows the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse in July 2016, which was the result of an allergic reaction after consuming a baguette from Pret a Manger that contained sesame seeds. The coroner’s inquest in September 2018 found that Pret’s allergen labelling system was “inadequate”, as the allergen stickers on food display units (which instructed consumers to ask staff for details of allergens) were not sufficiently visible. In response, Environment Secretary Michael Gove promised an overhaul of allergen labelling law to avoid such incidents in the future. The current consultation follows Gove’s meeting with retailers, specialists and allergy groups in December 2018.
Currently, allergen labelling in the UK is covered by the Food Information Regulation 1169/2011 (“Food Information Regulation”). The Food Information Regulation states that prepacked food must include allergen information either on the packaging or an attached label. Food business operators (“FBOs”) also have to provide allergen information for non-prepackaged food (i.e., food offered for sale without prepackaging, or packed on sales premises at the consumer’s request or prepacked for direct sale).
However, FBOs can provide allergen information for non-prepackaged food by any means they choose. The Regulation leaves it open to Member States to impose stricter allergen labelling measures. Some Member States have taken a more restrictive approach. In France, for example, allergen information for non-prepacked food must be in writing, on the food itself or close to it, in a way that excludes any uncertainty. In Ireland, all allergen information must be provided to consumers in writing, at the point of presentation, sale or supply. In contrast, the UK gave FBOs more freedom, allowing them to make allergen information for non-prepacked food available by any means they choose, including orally.