'Nothing off the table' in drive to improve allergy labelling, say MPs

16 May 2023 by
'Nothing off the table' in drive to improve allergy labelling, say MPs

A government minister said "nothing is off the table" as MPs debated proposals to make dining out safer for people with allergies.

Neil O'Brien, Conservative MP for Harborough and minister for primary care and public health, made the comments during a debate on food labelling and allergens prompted by two parliamentary petitions from bereaved families.

The first, organised by Tanya Ednan-Laperouse and Emma Turay, called for the appointment of an allergy tsar to act as a champion for the one in three people in the UK living with allergies.

Tanya's daughter Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died aged 15 in 2016, following a severe allergic reaction to a baguette containing sesame seeds. Shanté Turay-Thomas, Emma's daughter, died aged 18 in September 2018 from a severe allergic reaction to hazelnuts.

The second petition was organised by Emma Kocher, whose brother Owen Carey died after eating a chicken burger, which had been marinated in buttermilk, while celebrating his 18th birthday. It called for the listing of allergens on the face of all menus to be a legal requirement alongside a condition that front of house teams proactively enquire about allergies.

It also asked for a register to be kept of all cases of allergy-related anaphylaxis and death.

O'Brien told the debate, held in Westminster Hall yesterday (15 May): "I am not in a position to make an announcement today, but I am struck by the fact that everyone involved agrees that there is room to do better. Nothing is off the table at this point."

The debate heard that a joined-up approach needed to be taken to ensure that any incoming legislation would be workable, acknowledging that changing menus and a high turnover of staff were commonplace across the hospitality industry.

O'Brien said: "There are a number of issues relating to improving labelling for people with serious allergies. They are not arguments against doing anything; they are just issues that we must grapple with as we work out how to make progress.

"One is how we avoid potentially dangerous out-of-date information on menus, particularly for smaller restaurants, which change their ingredients more frequently. We cannot have false reassurance.

"Another challenge that we have to grapple with, and are grappling with, is how to avoid some smaller businesses taking away a lot of choices for people with allergies by simply labelling too many items as containing allergens. Such businesses may have small kitchens that work with lots of different products and multiple allergens.

"We cannot take away lots of choices for people with allergies; we want them to have the freedom of choice that everyone expects to enjoy, but to have safety at the same time."

'Extraordinary' allergen figures

There was cross-party support for action and Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham, said: "There has been a 615% increase in hospital admissions relating to allergic disease during the past 20 years. More than 200,000 people require the prescription of emergency adrenalin because of the severity of their allergic condition. Each year, births add 43,000 new cases of child allergy to the population in need. The figures are extraordinary.

"All the reports have consistently highlighted how allergy remains poorly managed across the NHS because of a lack of training and expertise. All have recommended significant improvement in specialist services as well as improved knowledge and awareness in primary care.

"They have all talked about a national allergy action plan and the need for a national lead person responsible for allergy services—an allergy tsar. Yet in truth, very little has happened in 20 years. Change is long overdue."

O'Brien said a workshop with bereaved families would be held in June to examine how government can go further. A clinical reference group is also launching a review on the current service specification for specialised allergy services.

The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation was set up by Tanya Ednan-Laperouse and her husband Nadim following the death of their daughter. It has been campaigning for the appointment of an allergy tsar for nearly two years.

The couple successfully campaigned for the introduction of Natasha's Law in 2021, which requires all ingredients and allergens to be listed on food made on-site and pre-packed for direct sale.

Image: Alena Veasey / Shutterstock

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