The inquest into the death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse has brought food regulations and allergy labelling of products to the fore.
Food regulation expert Dr Richard Hyde, associate professor in law at the University of Nottingham, has set out the key issues.
– What is the current law?
Dr Hyde explained that the law at the moment, the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation and the UK Food Information Regulations 2014, is that if there are any of 14 different types of allergens contained within food they should be highlighted on the label of the product – but this only applies to pre-packaged food that is already made before it reaches the shop or restaurant in which it is being sold. Non-prepackaged food does not have to have a specific label attached to the specific food, according to the current law.
– What is the problem with this law?
During the inquest into the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, coroner Dr Sean Cummings heard that Pret A Manger operates under regulation 5 of the Food Information Regulations, as their outlets have kitchens adjacent preparing fresh food which is then packed and displayed for sale. Dr Cummings pointed out that one of the effects of regulation 5 is that it allows for the ‘incomplete labelling of food products’. It allows for a ‘general description’ but does not require identification of allergens in bold lettering on the packet. Dr Hyde pointed out that businesses can direct consumers to ask for information about allergens, rather than providing the information in writing.
– What are the 14 allergens?
Cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, peanuts, soybeans, milk, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame seeds, sulphur dioxide and sulphites at a particular concentration, lupin and molluscs.
– What can actually change?
Dr Hyde said the Government can apply a more ‘stringent’ requirement in relation to non-prepackaged food. He said it can amend the current regulations and require that allergens are specifically highlighted in writing. Dr Hyde said he thinks the UK regulations should change to require businesses to set out in writing what allergens are in a particular product, that there should be a ‘duty’ to set out and declare what the allergens are, rather than putting the onus on the consumer.
– How easy would it be to change the law?
Dr Hyde said it would be relatively simple as it is set out in a statutory instrument, meaning a change does not have to be made by an Act of Parliament.
– Would there be any opposition?
Small businesses, such as some restaurants that cook new menus every day, may find it to be quite a burden to have to produce an allergy list every day, Dr Hyde pointed out. However, he said he would not anticipate much opposition generally, given the damaging consequences of someone not being aware of an allergen in food.
– Would Brexit affect any of this?
Dr Hyde said the overall regulation comes from an EU piece of legislation, including the 14 listed allergens. He suggested that post-Brexit the list of 14 allergens could be extended to include more.