Calls to improve allergy labelling in the hospitality sector are being considered with “nothing is off the table”, according to a health minister.
Neil O’Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care added the Government will also “look closely” at proposals for a national allergy tsar.
His comments came as MPs used a parliamentary debate to support two campaigns after they were supported by thousands of people who signed two e-petitions.
The first petition, 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 an acute 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.
The petitions call 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.
Mr O’Brien, responding to a debate in Westminster Hall, said food businesses are “under the same legal obligation” to provide information at the point of sale indicating the presence of 14 major allergens.
The minister said the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is working to ensure all consumers can “make safe and informed choices about the food that they buy, adding: “The Carey family is already driving awareness on these issues and the issues that people with life-threatening allergies face.
“The FSA has met with the family several times over the last few years and absolutely recognises the very positive impact that just the campaign for Owen’s Law is already having.
“We need to consider all the changes we might make to the law carefully to make sure there are better safety outcomes for allergen sufferers and to avoid any kind of unintended consequences for consumers.”
Mr O’Brien said a workshop with the families and others will take place at the start of June to “look at how we go further”, adding: “I’m not in a position to make an announcement today but everyone agrees there is room to do better and nothing is off the table at this point in time.
“We are thinking about a number of different issues as we think about how to improve our labelling for people who have serious allergies.
“One of the challenges – and these are not arguments against doing anything, they’re just issues that we have to grapple with as we work out how to make progress – is how do we avoid dangerous out-of-date information being on menus, particularly for smaller businesses, smaller restaurants which have more frequent changes to their ingredients. We can’t have false reassurance.”
Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, a trustee of Natasha’s Foundation and one of the world’s leading allergy researchers, said: “Allergies are at epidemic levels in the UK. Despite this growing burden of disease, there has been little investment in NHS allergy services for the last 20 years. A shortage of allergy specialists and clinics and inadequate allergy training among GPs means many patients with allergies fail to get the care and support they need.
“Appointing an allergy tsar to act as a champion for people with allergies would be an important first step in addressing this unmet need.”
Conservative MP Steve Brine, who chairs the Commons Health Committee, earlier said: “To avoid other families suffering the same awful loss that Owen’s family and Natasha’s family have experienced, it is absolutely essential that the Government looks at what more can be done to pull together all of this work that’s been done over many years to ensure that people with allergies have the information they need to make informed decisions about what they can and cannot eat.”