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Research Reveals Britons’ Lack of Awareness of Food Allergens

GS1 UK, the global standards organisation, is calling for the food industry to do more to protect and inform consumers

One fifth of the UK population believe they have a food allergy – yet one in six are unable to identify any allergens within common food groups, according to a recent study.

Only 43% of those surveyed correctly identified tree nuts as an allergen in pesto, while almost half knew tofu was made from soybeans, and nearly a third didn’t know milk was the allergen in yoghurt.

But eight out of 10 agreed it was important that any new food legislation introduced should legislate to protect those with severe food allergies.

The research was conducted in the months running up to Natasha’s Law taking effect in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland in October 2021. The new legislation will require all food businesses to provide full ingredient lists, and allergen information, on foods pre-packaged for direct sale in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Yet nearly 61% of adults in those nations were unaware of the law’s existence.

Worryingly the research also found that even among those with a food allergy, social awkwardness meant 62% did not feel comfortable asking about whether dishes contained allergens when eating out, and said that they would rather ‘take the risk’ instead.

The study was commissioned by GS1 UK – the global provider of interoperable standards which covers 90% of UK retailers.

Anne Godfrey, CEO of GS1 UK, commented: “Natasha’s Law is much-needed and will undoubtedly increase transparency in the food industry and protect consumers. Yet, our research shows that transparency should not be limited to pre-packaged items. Existing technology has the potential to drive transparency across the entire industry”.

Indeed, a quarter said being able to scan a code on food products, while in-store, would make understanding of potential allergens clearer. Brits already check labels 36% of the time for allergens or food intolerances, and 39% of the time for the country of origin of their food, and 27% check items for their sustainability credentials.

A simple smartphone scan [of a barcode like a QR code] will be able to show a product’s allergens, environmental impact, extended producer responsibility and much more,” Ms Godfrey said, adding: “To achieve this, the standards that sit behind the labelling of products must be used universally to enable a common language which will allow consumers to identify, capture and share data about food products.”

Professor Adam Fox, Consultant Paediatric Allergist, and contributor to ITV’s ‘This Morning,’ has backed the GS1 UK campaign, and said: “For people with food allergies, the fear of making a simple mistake, with devastating consequences, has a draining effect on quality of life. The introduction of Natasha’s Law, requiring greater transparency about full ingredients, is a key step forward but there is a great opportunity to harness technology to make things better still.”

The Food Information (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2019, known as Natasha’s Law, was brought about following the efforts of a lobbying group led by the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a teenager who died after suffering an allergic reaction to an undeclared ingredient in a prepacked meal. The Government confirmed that stronger laws would be implemented to protect those with food allergies and give them greater confidence in the food they buy.

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