Following the inquest in to the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, Tina Patel from the team representing her family discusses why the current food labelling laws need to change to prevent further tragedies.
Natasha was 15 years old when she died. Her inquest last week heard how before boarding a British Airways flight to Nice she ate a Pret a Manger baguette in which Sesame seeds had been baked into the dough.
She had been reassured by the fact the packaging of the baguette contained no warning that there were allergens hidden within the food. Sesame seeds are one of 14 Allergens specifically listed by the FSA (Food Standards Agency) as ingredients which should be indicated to consumers as being in the food they consume.
Natasha, who was allergic to sesame seeds had a severe reaction on the plane to Nice and died later that same day. Her parents are now calling for a change to the law following the conclusion of the inquest.
The Coroner indicated he would be writing to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to consider whether large food businesses should benefit from Regulation 5 of the Food Information Regulations.
These facts have ensured that the calls to change the law are now deafening. We live busy lives, often grabbing food on the go, those who have food allergies need full protection which the current food regulations, which allow a company such as Pret, which sells 218 million items a year and is worth £1.5bn to operate in the same way as a small single-store sandwich shop, do not provide.
Large numbers of consumers are left exposed to potential safety issues which are a matter of life and death, this cannot be right. For this reason we need Natasha’s law.
What is the current Law?
The current Food Information Regulations came into force on 13 December 2014 and are derived from EU Food Information for Consumers (FIC) Regulation 1169 / 2011.
Regulation 5 sets out the position in relation to non-pre-packed foods as:
5.—(1) A food business operator who offers for sale a relevant food to which this regulation applies may make available the particulars specified in Article 9(1)(c) (labelling of certain substances or products causing allergies or intolerances) in relation to that food by any means the operator chooses, including, subject to paragraph (3), orally.
(2) This regulation applies to a relevant food that is offered for sale to a final consumer or to a mass caterer otherwise than by means of distance communication and is—
(a)not prepacked, (b)packed on the sales premises at the consumer’s request, or (c)prepacked for direct sale.
(3) Where a food business operator intends to make available the particulars specified in Article 9(1)(c) relating to a relevant food orally, and a substance or product listed in Annex II or derived from a substance or product listed in Annex II is used as an ingredient or processing aid in the manufacture or preparation of the food, the operator must indicate that details of that substance or product can be obtained by asking a member of staff.
(4) The indication mentioned in paragraph (3) must be given— (a)on a label attached to the food, or (b)on a notice, menu, ticket or label that is readily discernible by an intending purchaser at the place where the intending purchaser chooses that food.
(5) In relation to a relevant food to which this regulation applies, the Article 9(1)(c) particulars made available by a food business operator must be made available with a clear reference to the name of the substance or product listed in Annex II where—
(a)the relevant ingredient or processing aid is derived from a substance or product listed in Annex II, and (b)the particulars are made available otherwise than by means provided for in FIC.
(6) In this regulation “relevant food” means a food in which an ingredient or processing aid listed in Annex II, or derived from a substance or product listed in Annex II, has been used in its manufacture or preparation and that is still present in the finished product (even if in an altered form).
The current law in relation to non-pre-packaged food places an obligation on food retailers to make allergen information discernible to consumers, either in writing or orally by asking a member of staff.
The product information should be readily available, clear, concise and not be misleading to the consumer.
However, the current regulations do not make it mandatory to detail the allergen information on each product individually. The difference in providing allergy information is a matter of life and death. The current law allows global food retailers to sell food without provision of clear allergen information on packaging.
Food retailers need to take on a greater responsibility in ensuring the food they retail clearly displays all allergen information. The only way to ensure food retailers do this is to make it mandatory - this means the current food regulations need to be amended to compel them to do so.
The onus should not be on the consumer to hunt for allergy information.
Those retailers who do not comply with the law should face criminal prosecution including potential imprisonment not just large fines. As I highlighted in my previous blog on the current allergy labelling laws, there also needs to be an agreed, uniform system in place to enable consumers with food allergies to purchase food confidently knowing it is safe for them to consume.
Consumers have the right to feel safe and be protected regardless of the additional costs this may add to food retail businesses and it is time for the relevant government agencies to act to avoid future death.