With the recent boom in sales, the chances are that you are more likely to have bought a ‘free-from’ product than not. Research by Kantar Worldpanel showed that a staggering 54% of the population had purchased a ‘free-from’ product from the first three months of 2017 – that’s 36% higher than the previous year. For the first time, not buying these products places you in the minority. With these trends being driven particularly by a younger demographic, it is fair to say that such increases will only continue, and grow, over time. And that’s where the importance of clear allergen labels comes in.
With such a growing market, it is easy to see how it can be tempting for manufacturers to join the trend, attaching free-from, or allergen labels to their products. After all, it is not the case that the number of those suffering from allergies and health issues is suddenly increasing at this alarming rate. The BBC reports that only 5% of the population actually need to avoid certain food groups.
However, to the 5%, clear allergen labelling is of crucial importance. Coeliac UK reports how a person with coeliac disease eating gluten by mistake can lead to symptoms such as headaches, diarrhoea, stomach pains, and lethargy, which can last as long as a few days. Major food allergies can even lead to anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening. Although products are far more likely to reach the hands of those with no health complications, clear allergen labels are vital in minimising risk to the minority who do suffer.
EU law has adapted to the needs of those with coeliac disease, introducing regulations ensuring that both prepacked and non-prepacked food must be labelled as ‘gluten-free’. Legally, this label is based on a limit of 20 parts per million of gluten or less within the food.
Whilst research has revealed this as a safe amount for those with a gluten intolerance, other allergies still have undefined limits. As there is no threshold, EU law makes clear that ‘free-from’ must mean absolutely no presence of the allergen. Any amount must be made clear with an allergen label, to ensure the safety of consumers. In the case of free-from and allergen labelling, the law is clear that it is far better to be safe than sorry.
Before labelling everything within reach, it is important to note that the EU also rules that such labels are hardly needed on products such as water, which could never contain allergens. It is still, ultimately, the responsibility of the individual to understand the generalities of their condition. Clear labelling, however, allows these informed consumers to shop with confidence, safe in the knowledge that they are eating safely.