When the British public voted for Brexit, to exit the European Union, there were many questions. An important question that many people asked once the vote was cast was about food safety. Would the UK continue to adhere to EU food safety and labeling regulations, or would the British people be put at risk with a regulation vacuum? Foremost in the minds of parents of kids with food allergies was the possibility that labeling requirements for allergens would no longer be enforced.
EU Allergen Rules
In 2014, the European Union put food safety and labeling regulations into effect for all member countries. Called the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (FIC), the rules were aimed at making labeling simpler and safer for those with allergies. The FIC requires that companies must emphasize allergens on pre-packaged food labels, by bolding, italicizing or underlining the allergen ingredients. The regulation covers 14 different allergens:
- Crustaceans (considered shellfish in the U.S.)
- Mollusks (considered shellfish in the U.S.)
- Tree nuts
- Sesame seeds
- Cereal grains that contain gluten
- Lupin beans, a legume
- Sulfites and sulfur dioxide
The Food Standards Agency Statement
Immediately after the Brexit vote, parents and concerned advocates for people with food allergies were questioning how the move would impact labeling, and therefore food safety. The Food Standards Agency issued a response to questions about continuing with EU food safety regulations. The Agency stated that its continued mission is to ensure food is safe and that consumers have all the information they need to make choices about food. The Agency also stated that all EU regulations were still in place at least until the UK exit was negotiated.
Concerns over Food Safety
The Food Standards Agency cannot, of course, claim that EU regulations will remain the same once the UK has officially exited, and this is what has people worried about food safety. What will fill the vacuum left by those regulations may be less strict, and that could put citizens at risk. There have already been concerns over a trade deal that would bring U.S. foods into the country. Advocates are concerned that the safety standards, particularly in chicken processing, will not be up to the standards the UK has been used to under EU rules.
Along with this, of course, is the concern over safety for people who live with food allergies. There is still no word about what labeling requirements will look like once the exit has become official. Adding to the worries are the results of an academic study that found the UK is not prepared for ensuring food safety post-Brexit. The study found that policy makers, and the public too, have been complacent, relying on the EU to ensure safety in food and food labeling. Prime Minister May has not put anyone at ease, refusing to rule out the possibility that food safety standards will be lowered after official Brexit.
The public concern over food safety and labeling for allergens is valid. The government has done nothing to reassure the public that food safety standards will be maintained. This means that parents of kids with food allergies will have to be more vigilant than ever and will have to be advocates for their children to demand safety in foods.