The UK government is cracking down on food labelling. A new law will make it mandatory for businesses to include a full ingredients list on pre-packaged items in a bid to protect the country’s 2m food allergy sufferers.
Under current laws, food prepared and sold on the same premises is not required to display allergen information in writing. That will change under the upcoming reforms, rewriting the rules for categories like salads or sandwiches.
The new legislation will be known as ‘Natasha’s Law,’ after the teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who suffered a fatal allergic reaction to a Pret a Manager baguette.
It will be introduced by the end of summer, but food businesses across England and Northern Ireland will have a two-year implementation period, before the laws are fully enforced in 2021.
“These changes will make food labels clear and consistent and give the country’s 2m food allergy sufferers confidence in making safe food choices,” said environment secretary Michael Gove.
The introduction of Natasha’s Law follows a consultation in January proposing four options, including full ingredient list labelling; allergen-only labelling; ‘ask the staff’ labels on products; and promoting best practice to businesses.
More than 70% of consumers backed full ingredient labels during the consultation, with the Food Standards Agency recommending this option to government as well.
“We want the UK to become the best place in the world for people living with food hypersensitivities. The impact of food allergy and intolerance on quality of life can be as great or even greater than almost all other foodborne diseases,” said chair of the Food Standards Agency Heather Hancock. “Whilst it’s impossible to eliminate the risks entirely, we believe this change will mean better protection for allergic consumers.”
A dangerous reliance on labelling?
However, UKHospitality warned the new labelling measures could be impractical and potentially hazardous.
“We are worried that full ingredient labelling is going to prevent the kind of dialogue we need to promote,” said Kate Nicholls, the group’s chief executive.
“Some smaller businesses may struggle with the unwieldy new legislation and it is almost certainly going to lead to much less choice for customers. There is also a risk that the new measures, which will not circumvent cross-contamination and will be open to mislabelling, will only promote a dangerous reliance on labelling.”
But Pret a Manger, which has been trialling full ingredient labelling in several London stores and has just begun a nationwide rollout, welcomed the new law.
“We are pleased that the government has chosen to support full ingredient labelling,” said a spokeswoman. “
“As part of Pret’s Allergy Plan, full ingredient labels are now in over 60 Pret shops as part of our nationwide rollout. Before we took this step, we ran a number of pilots to confirm that this approach would be safe, practical and effective. Thanks to the dedication of many Pret team members, we have been able to show that full ingredient labelling is operationally possible in small kitchens when proper care is taken.”