Are the United Kingdom's food labelling regulations adequate?
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On 17 July 2016 Natasha Edna-Laperouse died following a flight from London to Nice after eating an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette from Pret a Manger. Despite two EpiPens being administered to her, Ms Edna-Laperouse went into cardiac arrest and passed away at a hospital in Nice.
The baguette’s packaging included general instructions to consult staff where required rather than providing a full list of allergens, including sesame, to which Ms Edna-Laperouse was allergic. Following the inquest into her death, the coroner, Dr Sean Cummings, said that he would be writing to Environment Secretary Michael Gove to address the gaps in the labelling regulations for large and small businesses.
Currently, food labelling regulations are set out in EU law and implemented by the individual member states through national legislation. There are several requirements which the food industry must meet to ensure that consumers are informed of a product’s basic information, such as its name, best before and use by dates and any necessary warnings. However, there are also requirements that producers highlight allergens on such labels using a different font, style or background colour.
Sadly, it has taken Ms Edna-Laperouse’s tragic death to highlight the need to reform the current legislation, despite previous cases already indicating the serious need for reform. For example, in 2014 Amy Shead’s girls' trip to Budapest ended in tragedy after she ate at a local restaurant and went into cardiac arrest, despite having informed the restaurant of her severe nut allergy. Ms Shead was left severely paralysed after her brain was deprived of oxygen for six minutes and consequently spent almost one year in a coma. She lost her sight, her ability to speak and most of her movement, which demonstrates the devasting impact that the current food regulations can have.
The number of people in the United Kingdom living with diagnosed food allergies is currently around 2 million, but this figure is believed to be far higher. As with many areas of law, Brexit could lead to legislative changes in this regard. However, it remains to be seen whether such change will result in more stringent, adequate food labelling regulations or whether the United Kingdom will adopt an even more lax approach.
This story caught my attention due to the tragic impact that a lack of reform in this area has had on the many families that have been affected. Food is an integral part of our daily lives and more should be done to make sure that people are properly informed about what they are consuming.