Global standards organisation GS1 UK is leading calls for the food industry to do more to protect and inform consumers.

  • A fifth of Brits believe they have a food allergy – yet one in six cannot identify ANY allergens in common food groups.
  • Social awkwardness means two-thirds of sufferers do not feel comfortable asking about allergens in dishes when eating out and would rather ‘take the risk’ instead.
  • GS1 UK’s Feed us the Facts campaign, which supports new food legislation, is backed by the British Dietetics Association’s Specialist Allergy Group; Britain’s Anaphylaxis Campaign; and consultant Paediatric Allergist Professor Adam Fox.
  • The technology and standards exist to protect and empower consumers, but industry needs to do more.

A fifth of Brits 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, whilst just 48% knew tofu was made from soybeans and nearly a third did not know milk was the allergen in yoghurt.

However, eight in 10 agree it is important that new food legislation is introduced to protect those with severe food allergies out of home.

The new study has been commissioned by GS1 UK – the global provider of interoperable standards which cover 90% of UK retailers. The not-for-profit is leading the Feed us the Facts campaign for extra transparency from the entire food industry to protect people and businesses.

The research comes just over two months ahead of Natasha’s law coming into effect this October. 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, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Yet, nearly two thirds (61%) of adults were unaware of its existence.

GS1 UK agrees that Natasha’s law is certainly needed, but it is the start of a journey and if the entire food industry collaborates – not just pre-packaged food for direct sale – it can help empower consumers and save lives via greater transparency.

A clear indication that information needs to become more accessible is that of those with a food allergy, social awkwardness means that 62% do not feel comfortable asking about allergens in dishes when eating out and would rather ‘take the risk’ instead.

Meanwhile, the shift to online shopping has caused confusion for many. Consumers are more than twice as likely to understand everything that is inside a product when shopping in store, compared to online – pointing to the problems caused by current irregularities in how consumers are expected to consume vital food information.

Currently, 42% ‘trust’ large brands to accurately label their products with allergen information, more than smaller brands. However, a third would trust a brand if they knew a brand had recalled products in the past due to contamination or misleading information on packaging. As such, the democratisation of product information through industry collaboration would also benefit retailers. A supply chain that consumers could have total visibility over could increase trust.

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, one in four feel a code to scan food products would make allergens clearer when shopping – with 36% of Brits checking labels to check for allergens or food intolerances. Whilst 39% check labels to see where their food has come from and 27% check an items sustainability credentials.

“2D barcodes – like a QR code or DataMatrix – can hold significant vital information which, in the future, will empower a more responsible, protected and informed consumer. Quick smartphone scans will be able to show a product’s allergens, environmental impact, extended producer responsibility and much more.”

“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.

“This would allow retailers to recall a food item more effectively by having the ability to instantly inform everyone across the supply chain with a click of a button, including the consumer who purchased the item – rather than using todays slow methods of communication.

“Natasha’s law is a hugely positive step that will highlight pre-packaged products that contain allergens. Its introduction is the beginning of an encouraging journey, because if we collaborate as an industry, we can help save more lives.”

Consultant Pediatric Allergist and regular contributor to ITV’s This Morning, Professor Adam Fox, is backing the campaign, saying: “For people with food allergies, the fear of making a simple mistake, with devastating consequences, has a draining effect on quality of life.

“Thankfully, life threatening allergic reactions to food are rare, but with the rates of severe reactions continuing to increase, this is an important public health issue and one which needs government, manufacturers, retail and catering establishments to come together to help protect allergic consumers.

“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.

“Just a few years ago, we could only have dreamed that there could be a simple system that would reliably and accurately alert consumers to all their allergens, and, when mistakes happen, trace any item sold back to the individual customer – but this may now be within our grasp.

“This coming together of better regulation, informed by the community who are the key stakeholders and empowered by new technology would be another step towards making life safer and easier for allergy sufferers”.

Lynne Regent, CEO of the UK’s Anaphylaxis Campaign, is also supporting the move towards greater transparency: “We hear daily how seriously severe allergy impedes the lives of those at risk. There is no treatment or cure for anaphylaxis – people at risk have two options: manage their condition and carry adrenaline.

Our ultimate aim is to create a safe environment for all people with allergies. Whilst good progress has been made in the food industry to improve safety for allergic consumers over the last few years, this new consumer research highlights that there is still a great deal of work to do.”

Mary Feeney, the Group Chair of the British Dietetics Association’s Food Allergy Specialist Group, a professional and trusted voice to the allergy sector, endorsed the campaign, commenting “Many people may be unaware that allergen information can be provided in different ways, for example, some types of packaged foods do not need to include this on a product label; in a restaurant, allergen information may not be listed on the menu but could be provided in a separate folder. Finding the information needed to choose safe foods can be difficult for people with food allergies, especially when eating out or on the go.”

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