Natasha's law - legislation requiring ingredients labelling on all pre-packaged foods presented in Parliament
On Thursday 5th September, 'Natasha's Law' was presented in Parliament. This is new legislation which mandates full ingredients labelling on all pre-packaged food.The legislation (officially known as the Food Information (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2019) is named in tribute to the teenager who died following an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger sandwich, a tragedy which triggered increased public scrutiny of allergen labelling practices.
Under the previous law (EU Regulation 1169/2011), there was no requirement for businesses to display allergen information on the labels of any food which is prepared and sold on the same premises. Businesses were free to provide the allergen information by other means – including orally.
However, the statutory instrument laid in Parliament on 5 September tightened these rules, and food prepared and sold on the same premises must now carry a full list of ingredients..
Food minister Zack Goldsmith said "This is a significant moment for the millions of allergy sufferers in England… The introduction of this law will make it easier for allergy sufferers to make clear, safe choices when buying food."
Businesses will have two years to prepare for the changes, with the legislation coming into force in October 2021.
What exactly is changing?
The new law will place an obligation on businesses to clearly label all ingredients and allergens on "pre-packed food for direct sale". This category includes all food that is prepared onsite; for example, a sandwich prepared by café staff in the morning and then packaged up for sale.
Previously the law distinguished "pre-packed food for direct sale" from the general requirements in relation to "pre-packed food":
- pre-packed food: businesses were required to flag full ingredients list with all allergens in a bold font.
- pre-packed food for direct sale: businesses were still required to provide allergen information, but were able to determine how that information could be given. The information could be provided either in a written form or verbally, as it was assumed that customers could ask staff for the relevant information.
The exclusion was previously intended to save small businesses from onerous labelling requirements, but in practice, the same rules (and exemptions) applied to all businesses, allowing Pret and other national chains to rely on the exemption for pre-packed food for direct sale.
What do retailers need to do?
Food retailers will need to ensure their food packaging and labels are compliant with the legislation when it comes into force. This will particularly affect businesses specialising in freshly-prepared foods, as all pre-packed food prepared by staff onsite will now have to display the full list of ingredients.
While the legislation will be celebrated by food allergy sufferers, critics have argued that while the new legislation might provide better protection for allergy sufferers, there are certain "impractical and potentially hazardous" implications – such as mislabelling and over-reliance on ingredient labelling which might not take cross-contamination into account.