supermarket Booths withdrew some batches of its Whole Hearted Roasted Monkey
Nuts due to an error in allergen information: “Monkey nuts” is an alternative term for
peanuts, but the word “peanuts” was not declared anywhere on the label.
The reactions to
this were predictable, but one of the ones to catch my eye was from Dr Clare
Gerada, who is the Chair of the Royal College of GPs. On her Twitter stream she called it “madness”, “beyond nuts” and “a sad reflection of how
ridiculous we have become”.
are legumes (like beans, peas, chickpeas) rather than nuts, we’re generally
guilty of treating them as and referring to them as nuts in an everyday context.
Allergen labelling law, however, maintains the distinction rightly and clearly:
peanuts are one of the 14 allergens which must be declared on labelling, and
nuts (collectively - eg Brazils, hazelnuts) are another. You may react to one or the other – or both.
Whilst these may also be commonly
referred to as ground nuts or monkey nuts, the term “peanuts” [their emphasis] should be used for allergen labelling
purposes, as this is the term specified in Directive 2000/13/EC …
labelling fell foul of this, and was rightly withdrawn, as silly as it may seem
at first consideration.
This is not
about single-ingredient products having to declare the allergen they contain twice.
A carton of milk labelled ‘milk’ does not need an allergy box reading ‘contains
milk’, providing the word ‘milk’ appears on the front and not, say, ‘bovine
udder juice’ – although Asda did slip up on this several years ago, and of
course the Daily Mail duly ‘milked’ it for all its worth (throwing in some ignorance
concerning food hypersensitivity for good measure). No, it’s just about
ensuring the allergen is declared somewhere as the law requires it to be – and
in this case it wasn’t.
Since I started
compiling this piece, the brilliant allergy blogger Louise Jones has posted on the subject, with typical no-nonsense clarity. As she points out, this
wasn’t a case of “health and safety gone mad”, but a sign that we have (and
indeed should have) a zero-tolerance approach to allergy labelling slip-ups –
and that even the most ‘safe’-seeming mistake should be dealt with, “to ensure
that the measures protecting allergic consumers don’t begin to erode”. I agree.
This is life or death for some people, remember.
from Gerada reminded me of a previous time I spotted a prominent doctor making
what I considered ill-advised remarks concerning food sensitivities, and which I blogged about in the early, far stroppier days of this blog. Dr Max
Pemberton, then, showed some lack of understanding of lactose intolerance and towards
those who felt food was making them ill – and I can’t help feeling that Gerada may
to some extent have revealed something similar in perhaps not fully grasping
how valuable allergen labelling legislation is, and as a consequence the
reality of life with a serious food allergy.
recent example concerned Dr Des Spence, writing in the British Medical Journal,
and laying into the whole allergy ‘industry’ and questioning non-coeliac gluten
intolerance – a subject Michelle Berriedale-Johnson addressed a few months ago
on the FoodsMatter Blog.
We often hear
that doctors don’t ‘get’ food allergy and intolerance, and while I’ve
heard enough stories to know that this can absolutely be true, sometimes my
instinct is to defend GPs when they’re accused of this – they’re overworked,
receive little education of allergy at medical school, and so on. But when
doctors react dismissively or sceptically like this, or make what seems a knee-jerk assessment, I start to be pulled back the other way,
and begin to wonder how bad the picture really might be among our doctors –
what the ‘culture’ of attitudes towards food hypersensitivity is among the
medical fraternity in general, how doctors really look upon those suffering or
who believe they are suffering.
“We are mad in
the West,” says Gerada of the withdrawal of the monkey nuts. We’re really not.
We have terrific allergen labelling in the EU, and evidently a good mechanism
in place to ensure problems are quickly resolved, with some good allergy
charities like the Anaphylaxis Campaign and Allergy UK who are quick to alert their members to a potential problem. It’s a pity
that the chair of the RCGP hasn’t seen that side of the story.
Labels: 'intolerance intolerance', food allergy, labelling, nut allergy, peanut allergy, product recall