Businesses must meet ‘Natasha’s Law’ by summer 2021

The government has announced it is making full ingredients labelling on pre-packed foods a legal requirement. It’s a decision that has pleased allergy campaigners and consumers, although it’s not been welcomed universally…

Food businesses will have to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packaged foods by summer 2021, the government has announced.

The new legislation – known as ‘Natasha’s Law’ after Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, the teenager who died when she suffered an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette – will tighten the rules by requiring foods that are pre-packed directly for sale to carry a full list of ingredients.

Under current laws, food prepared on the premises in which it is sold is not required to display allergen information in writing. Environment secretary Michael Gove said the changes would provide allergy suffers with the confidence to make safe food choices.

However, UKHospitality called it a “retrograde step” and “potentially dangerous”. Chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “We firmly believe the best way to raise awareness of allergens and keep customers safe is to promote an active dialogue between customers and businesses. That is why we recommended the promotion of voluntary labelling and encouraging customers to talk to the business and ask about ingredients and possible
allergens.”

Dominic Watkins, partner and global head of food group at legal firm DWF, tweeted that it was “no surprise, but not the right solution to have a one-size-fits-all answer”. He highlighted the additional costs to business, especially smaller ones, and “limited if any improvement in protection over a conversation with staff – just look at the number of recalls due to a labelling error”.

The risk of mislabelling, which was also highlighted in the consultation document, is rejected by the parents of Ednan-Laperouse. “While human error will always exist, it cannot be an excuse to do nothing when the lack of clear labelling is far more dangerous,” they wrote in The Grocer recently.

The government consultation in January proposed four options, including full ingredient list labelling, allergen-only labelling, ‘ask the staff’ labels on products, and promoting best practice to businesses.

There was “overwhelming support” from consumers for full ingredients labelling, with more than 70% of individuals backing the option. The Food Standards Agency’s recent advice also recommended that the government should implement full ingredients labelling.

The government’s impact assessment identified total costs of £8.62m to implement full ingredient labelling, five times the cost of businesses’ preferred ‘ask the staff’ label option and a figure that is likely to be a “significant underestimate”, according to the Food Standards Agency.

Some businesses are already proving full ingredient labelling is possible. Pret is in the process of rolling out labels across its portfolio of around 400 UK stores. In an interview with Footprint in April the company’s UK shops director Tom Sugarman admitted a pilot at Pret’s Victoria shop in London felt like a “hurricane” had struck but insisted it was the correct course of action.

Indeed, Footprint recently reported how the high street is “running scared” on allergens. Leon founder John Vincent even published a letter on its website where he said that those with serious allergies should “consider carefully whether you choose to dine with us”.

However, it is the smaller businesses that are likely to struggle most with the new laws. Nicholls of UKHospitality said: “Some smaller businesses may struggle with the unwieldly 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.”

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse’s parents, Tanya and Nadim, welcomed the news and praised the “unflinching support” from Gove and the health secretary Matt Hancock. They also announced the launch of the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, through which they hope to help deliver research on cures for allergies.

The government will introduce legislation by the end of summer mandating full ingredients labelling for foods pre-packed for direct sale. The new laws will then come into force by summer 2021, giving businesses time to adapt to the change.

The reforms cover labelling requirements for foods that are prepared and packed on the same premises from which they are sold, such as a packaged sandwich or salad made by staff earlier in the day and placed on a shelf for purchase.

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