Consultation on food labelling: changing food allergen information laws 

United Kingdom

The Government has launched a consultation seeking comment in relation to proposed changes to allergen information on pre-packed foods (link below). The proposed amendments would apply to both the domestic Food Information Regulations 2014 (England) and parallel FIR regulations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The information gathered during the consultation will be published following its closure, and will be taken into account in relation to future regulation.

The focus of the consultation is on Pre-Packed Foods for Direct Sale (PPDS), which ultimately means foods which are packed on the retail site where they are later sold. There is no legislative definition of PPDS and the consultation asks for comments on the scope of the labelling changes envisaged, and for now the consultation stipulates that it expects businesses and Local Authorities to follow the interpretation set out in the Food Standard Authority’s technical guidance on allergen labelling, which is: “foods that have been packed on the same premises from which they are being sold.

The current provisions require (in brief) that foods prepacked for direct sale are treated in the same way as non-prepacked foods, both being made on the premises where they are then sold. Currently, these foods are not required to carry labels, and information on allergens can be conveyed by any means the operator chooses. It is stipulated also that if the information is to be orally communicated customers must be clearly notified by way of a label, a sign or a menu that allergen information is available and will be supplied on request.

Food businesses and allergy sufferers are being invited to have their say on four options put forward to change the way information is provided on packaging, including:

  • Mandating full ingredient list labelling. This could include allergens being emphasised in bold as for prepacked foods.
  • Mandating allergen-only labelling on food packaging.
  • Mandating 'ask the staff' labels on all products, with supporting information for consumers available in writing. The information could include allergen information on the full list of ingredients.
  • Promoting best practice around communicating allergen information to consumers. Although on the face of it there would not be a change in the law, there would be additional activity to promote best practice within the current legislative framework. This may include: Best practice guidance for the catering sector to be produced by FSA and made available to all local authorities; Cross-Stakeholder conference with businesses hosted by Defra and FSA to discuss best practice and encourage change without amendments to legislation; Public information campaign to highlight allergen knowledge and awareness for food businesses and the general public. Comment is also welcome on whether this should be coupled with other options above.

The change comes after the Inquest of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who tragically died as a result of an allergy to the contents of on-site pre-packed foods. The Coroner had gathered comments by way of response to queries raised of the parties to those proceedings. Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has stated that:

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. 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 change on board independently, and in the meantime they should continue doing all they can to give consumers the information they need.

We refer also to our previous article which referred to these changes on the horizon, which you can also read here: Food Allergen Labelling a Catalyst For Change

If you wish to contribute you should follow this link and complete the Consultation, you have until 11:45 on 29 March 2019.

The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Kaleem Mahmood (Associate, CMS Sheffield) in preparing this article.