Michael Gove recently announced that new labelling laws will come into force later this year following DEFRA's consultation on mandatory full ingredient labelling. The so-called "Natasha's Law" will require food businesses to list full ingredients on pre-packaged foods directly for sale.
The change in labelling law follows the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who suffered a fatal allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette that contained sesame. At the time, Pret a Manger was not under any legal obligation to label the allergen on its baguette packaging due to the exception outlined by Regulation 5 of the Food Information Regulations 2014, concerning food prepared in "local kitchens".
However, the Coroner's inquest and subsequent report criticised food retailers' use of Regulation 5 to avoid full food labelling where items are not in fact prepared in 'local kitchens' but rather in '"factory style outlets… a device to evade the spirit of the regulation". Natasha's parents subsequently campaigned for a change in the law.
The law is expected to be passed later this summer and will have a two-year implementation period to allow businesses time to change labels on pre-packaged foods directly for sale. The law will therefore be effective from 2021.
Practical steps to consider
- Food businesses in the UK will need to change their labels to contain a full ingredients list where they sell pre-packaged foods directly for sale.
- Currently, the definition of food pre-packed for direct sale does not include food produced at a central site and distributed for sale at other retail premises, but does include foods which are pre-packed by a retailer for sale by him on the premises where the food is packed, or from a vehicle or stall used by him. It remains to be seen whether the new law will clarify these definitions.
- Due diligence at each stage of the supply chain will be important to maintain an accurate ingredients list, particularly when it comes to allergens. For larger supply chains, businesses should consider maintaining an allergens and ingredients database that must be kept up to date as part of any contractual agreement between relevant parties. Consider how risk is allocated along the supply chain and whether this can be mitigated with warranties and limitation of liability clauses setting out the extent to which each party may be held liable.
- Allergen labelling best practice includes adding "may contain" ingredients on products. This further minimises the risk to allergen sufferers and mitigates the legal risk of claims against food businesses.
Taylor Wessing can help
Our legal experts can:
- Draft and review distribution agreements between supply chain companies.
- Advise and implement ways of managing the risk of director and company liability for breach of food and labelling law.
- Review policies and procedures for allergens and food safety compliance.