Hiccups and FIC-ups

With days to go, it’s all about EU FIC Regulation No. 1169/2011 at the moment, with coverage on the BBC, the big charities (Coeliac UK and Anaphylaxis Campaign) spreading the word, plenty of print journalism in the trade press, bloggers and advocates sharing on social media. 

Although there are major changes with respect to eating out and non pre-packed foods (in an over-simplified nutshell: any of the 14 allergens present in a loose food / prepared meal need to be somehow declared or provided on request), I want to focus on labelling on pre packed food - which I covered over a year ago here

For a while I’ve been scrutinising labels with a little more interest than I normally would when doing my weekly shop. And there are many who have I think got it spot on - which is good. 

But there are many who have yet to make the switch from old style to new style - which is baffling. Let’s be clear about this: food manufacturers have had three years to become compliant, as the law was passed in December 2011, and the deadline is this Saturday. I find it inexplicable to see some products in, for instance, Morrison’s own-brand free-from range still labelling in the soon-to-become old-style. 

And some have made errors. Not major ones, but little hiccups nevertheless. M&S seem to be highlighting the word ‘gluten’ on at least some of their products. (See below - their Portobello Mushroom and Red Onion Roast). This is wrong. Technically, it’s the cereal grain which is listed as the allergen, and it is wheat, barley or rye, for example, that needs to be highlighted. Gluten should not be highlighted, and according to the British Retail Consortium (section 6, para 3), should not even be mentioned, though the FSA disagree (clause 30)

Another cereal grain which should be highlighted is oats. This is irrespective of whether or not the oats are gluten free, because oats are an allergen under existing allergen regulations. In October, I pointed this out on Twitter to Udi’s, who were - and still are (see below) - not highlighting oats in their granolas, and after insisting they were correct, despite being advised to the contrary by Coeliac UK, they eventually assured me via email they would investigate. I heard nothing more, and a quick polite enquiry today confirmed their ongoing insistence that they are labelling correctly. But according to both Coeliac UK and this excellent summary information from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland - they are not. 

Perhaps this is picky - these are not serious errors as far as consumer safety goes, after all - but the fact that two major food businesses have apparently not fully understood the finer details of allergen labelling law is perhaps unsettling. 

The two problems above to my mind stem from the fact that gluten-free labelling law and the EU FIC / 14 allergens laws were not necessarily designed to work together - and yet somehow they have to try to rub along. In the case of oats labelling, the picture is further confused by the issue of cross-contamination with wheat gluten, and whether oat ‘gluten’ - called avenin - is or isn’t problematic for coeliacs, or whether it should even be thought of as ‘gluten’. It’s confusing - to everyone. 

I’ve not yet spotted any new-style labelling error that is potentially misleading or dangerous, but I hope it’s not pessimistic of me to expect that some more worrying FIC-ups will emerge in 2015. Let me know what you find …

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