The Food Sensitive Community: not fair game for political point-scoring

Top chefs attack EU rules on allergens in food reads the Telegraph this morning, to a collective sigh of frustration from those with food allergies, coeliac and intolerances, whose lives (in the case of those living with potential anaphylaxis) don’t appear to be as important as the ‘spontaneity, creativity and innovation’ of the chefs which is supposedly being stifled by EU FIC 1169/2011 – the ’14 allergens’ labelling laws.

This latest salvo appears to have been co-ordinated by anti-EU campaign group Business for Britain, whose poorly informed take on the matter can be read here*. They say that the laws require

” … caterers and restaurant owners to conduct a comprehensive audit of every ingredient present within their dishes, which must then be displayed on menus … “

Comprehensive audit? They just need to be aware of what they are putting in their food. There is no requirement for the allergens to be displayed on menus, but allergens included must be available on request – even verbally, provided verifiable in writing.

On a day when BfB have accused Gordon Brown of scaremongering, they appear curiously oblivious to their own pot-kettle-blackness. They quote Prue Leith and the “bureaucratic nightmare” in which we find ourselves, where “damage” is being done to industry; there’s somebody from Patisserie Valerie talking about “jobs at risk”. No evidence in support of these is offered. The letter which BfB’s CE Matthew Elliott sent to Jeremy Hunt even talks of ‘significant sums of money’ being required for ‘entirely rewriting menus’ or even ‘hiring additional staff’. Especially disappointing is Thomasina Miers calling it a “fiasco”, unfortunately demonstrating her ignorance in declaring the onus of responsibility in asking about allergens is on the ‘allergee’ – which the law makes allowance for anyway.

Michelle at Foods Matter has already composed a response, and as I write this, the CMPA Support group have done likewise. Allergy charities have expressed their disappointment. I’ll add further links at the foot.

A lot of people are angry, and although there’s no productive point in feeling this way, so am I. I’m angry that a privileged group of Eurosceptics consider it appropriate to exploit the food sensitive community in order to further their own anti-European agenda. Thankfully, the EU laws will not change and – at least at present – we are firmly in the EU. These facts will no doubt stick firmly in the craw of Business for Britain, and for that I’m suddenly immensely cheered.

* Link no longer valid. Business for Britain’s letter to Jeremy Hunt can be read here, and the signatories can be seen here.

Posts / Responses:
* Michelle’s Blog – Top Chefs Attack EU Regulations … Again!
* CMPA Support – Top Chefs Attack new EU Allergen Laws.
* The Intolerant Gourmand – What are the ‘Top Chefs so Afraid of?
* Ruth Holroyd (WhatAllergy) – Top Chefs attack new EU Regulations on allergens in food
* Allergy UK – Top chefs comment on food labelling regulations 
* The Food Allergy Hub – Top Chefs attack EU allergy labelling – a mummy’s rant!
* Food Standards Agency – Letter to The Telegraph 
* The Anaphylaxis Campaign – Chefs Say FIR ‘damaging creativity’ 
* Coeliac UK – Response to comments from chefs on new allergen rules
* Dairy Free Baby and Me – 100 Chefs – Why I’m not Bovvered …

9 Comments

  1. Sian

    Interesting to learn more behind the headline. Anti EU group has group of chefs bash EU allergy labelling rule in the Telegraph. I wonder how these chefs provided the soundbites? If they knew the bias of the and if they saw a copy of the letter before it was published in the Telegraph? Can all these chefs really not know that the rules do NOT state they must list every allergen against each item on the menu?

    It is Thomasina Miers who greatly disappoints me too in this. She's quoted in the Telegraph article as having had a severe allergy for 6 years. She owns a restaurant chain which is popular with those on gluten free diets. Her restaurant chain has even gone to the effort of devising a specific 'Gluten Information Menu' (available online). This allergy menu (gluten and nuts mainly) contains a lot of information on what's gluten free, how they prepare meals and cross contamination under the albeit slightly odd 'avoid if high intolerance level' label. You'd have thought she'd be supporting the new rules not rallying against them?

    Reply
  2. The Happy Coeliac

    I shared this on Facebook but just thought I would let you know how it's being done in Prague. I haven't seen this in the Netherlands (where I live) yet, so I don't know if it's also being done elsewhere.

    Each allergen gets a number from 1-14. Gluten is 1. I saw many, many menus that would list each dish, and then list the allergens in them, e.g.:

    Spaghetti carbonara (1,3,6,7)

    If they didn't have it on the main menus they had an allergy menu in this format. It's extremely simple and I don't understand how hard it is for these "innovative" chefs to go through the dish and list the sodding allergens. I did it with my lunch. It took two seconds.

    Reply
  3. Alex G

    Thanks Sian – perfectly put. I don't get Miers' stance either. It doesn't seem to make sense, especially given what you say about Wahaca – and indeed about her own former (outgrown?) food allergy.

    Reply
  4. Alex G

    Thanks Sam – just commented to the effect that this is a good idea, providing there's consistency in the numbers allocated to all allergens between eateries. Think it would have to apply across Europe / different languages, or could get confusing and potentially risky for e.g. frequent travellers / diners.

    Reply
  5. Adriana

    Well I've had loads of correspondence from her where she quotes her own ignorance on the subject of allergens and her own issues regarding a wheat and dairy allergy when she was young. Then she highlights that deep frying kills pathogens including wheat traces! She very kindly suggested I could bring my daughters food into the restaurant and they would put it on a plate for us! When I pointed out my daughter is 11 and would not appreciate this scenario she got properly pissed off with me. Very surprised she would sign her name to this.

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  6. What Allergy?

    You've cheered me up too Alex. Three cheers for the EU, Three Cheers for the Allergen Regulations. Hip Hip, Hooray. PS. I might be on Radio 5 Live tonight at 11.20 talking about this. #fingerscrossed Let the allergen community have their say. The chefs have had theirs.

    Reply
  7. What Allergy?

    What a fantastically simple idea. Love it. 1,2,3,4

    Reply
  8. nikkijayne

    I get the impression they have reacted this way just because it's an EU law. If it were a British law, I doubt they would have made a peep. It's pathetic either way. Do they not know what they put in their foods?!

    Reply
  9. Alex G

    Good call, Nikki. Feels driven by the anti-EU'ers – and the chefs have followed like clueless sheep …

    Reply

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