Food labelling and the food production industry at large are about to undergo yet another series of seismic shifts as UK regulations are once again being changed in order to crack down on allergen labelling, a realm of product information disclosure which many consider to be sorely lacking in terms of oversight, uniformity and effectiveness. These new allergy labelling regulations will likely be an extension of policies implemented in late 2014 which represented a first step towards creating a fully codified body of allergen labelling regulations designed to protect and inform potentially at-risk consumers.
The possible consequences of improper allergen labelling can be quite severe. For individuals who experience harsh reactions to common allergens such as peanuts, shellfish, etc., a mistake or omission in labelling could mean the difference between a satisfying meal and a trip to the hospital. In the most extreme of cases, individuals who have mistakenly consumed products which they were allergic to have died.
The European Food Information Council has become one of the most active organisations on the continent today striving for increased transparency and oversight with respect to food labelling. Thanks to their effort, food manufacturers are now required to list up to 14 different allergens which may be present in their products. These include celery, a variety of cereal products as well as soya. The scope of the Councils efforts to reign in improper labelling is impressive, indeed. Well over 22,000 food establishments were issued warnings in the last year alone for violating various food labelling and preparation standards. Of these warnings issued, over 200 eventually led to significantly more serious punishments, including product confiscation and legal action.
While some could, perhaps, argue that these measures represent a significant overreach by regulatory agencies seeking to enforce impractical and overly expensive regulatory measures, the importance of such policies cannot be expressed enough. The number of people suffering from potentially life-threatening allergy issues in the UK and Europe as a whole, combined with the dangerous outcomes which befall some of those who consume products they shouldnt, has transformed labelling policy into one of the most relevant and pressing commercial issues of our time.
While food safety authorities continue their efforts to ensure a safe environment for consumers, it has been widely acknowledged that this struggle is far from over. The sheer volume of products being created, and the speed at which they are entering the marketplace has made it all but impossible for regulators to oversee all product activity. Inevitably, some labelling mishaps will slip through the cracks, which is why regulators are actively expanding their ranks and seeking to develop new proactive relationships throughout the industry at large.
It will be quite interesting to observe what, if any labelling changes are introduced in the near future specifically in regards to allergies. Now that this topic has entered the focal area of legislators, it seems likely that substantive changes will be made. The only questions left are A.) how such changes will manifest themselves within the mainstream UK consumer marketplace and B.) to what extent these changes will further inform labelling policy outside of the allergen arena for the future. If precedents are established regarding the scope of policymakers influence, it seem reasonable to assume that food labelling will be fundamentally changed for years to come!