People with nut allergy have to be extremely careful of the food they eat and labelling of food is very important for them. Manufacturers often use the phrase "may contain" to indicate the possible presence of nut traces in food, either in the product ingredients or through contamination in the production process.
It is not a legal requirement to label nut trace contamination, but it's used to give people who have a nut allergy vital information. However, consumers have raised concerns over the way this labelling is used. They feel it is overused and can unnecessarily restrict consumer choice. They are also concerned that its use on unrelated products undermines valid warnings.
Faced with only anecdotal evidence, the Agency commissioned the Anaphylaxis Campaign, a respected organisation with expertise and experience in this area, to look closely at the issues raised.
The report shows that:
The report shows that the shopper avoiding nuts took an average of 7 minutes, almost 30 seconds longer per item, to purchase a basket of 16 items.
Dr Catherine Boyle, Head of Allergy and Food Intolerance said;
'The Food Standards Agency recognises that "may contain" labelling is essential to allergy sufferers, and that manufacturers are striving to provide this information.
However this report confirms that consumers are concerned and confused about the inconsistent way this information is communicated. Using "may contain" as a blanket insurance policy has a real impact on nut allergy sufferers as they find their choice of even the most basic of food items significantly restricted. We would encourage manufacturers to re-examine the labels they are using in light of this report, and will be working closely with them to develop new guidelines that are both practical and helpful.'
The Agency will use this research to consult the public and stakeholders on the best ways to improve the situation for nut allergy sufferers.
A programme of focus group work is already underway to examine in more detail the experience of the allergic consumer and to identify their preference on what is helpful and meaningful to them. This work will be completed in early summer.
The recommendations of the focus group will, along with the report, be presented to key stakeholder groups. The Agency will then work with industry and consumers to help identify practical solutions to these problems.
The following notes are also included:
A UK study carried out in 1996 reported that at least 1 in 200 children suffer from peanut allergy. (Tariq et al, British Medical Journal 313, 514-517). The FSA has funded research to look at the incidence of peanut allergy in the UK over a five year period. This research will be completed by 2006
Most ingredients should be listed on the product label in descending weight order. However there are exemptions that can mean that the presence of nuts do not have to always be indicated on the label. The 25% rule means that "ingredients of ingredients", for example sausage on a pizza, do not have to be labelled if they make up less than 25% of the final product. The Agency believes that all ingredients that could cause allergic or intolerance reactions should be clearly and recognisably labelled and has been urging the European Commission to bring forward proposals for changes in EU law to make this obligatory.
The Agency is currently consulting on formal 'Clearer Labelling' advice, covering location of information and text size and colour, which will make labels easier to read and working on advice to allergy sufferers on how to use labels.