We have fought to protect others since an allergic reaction killed our daughter. Now UK ministers must help us | Tanya Ednan-Laperouse

The last two years have made a huge difference to the millions of people living with food allergies in the UK. Tomorrow is the second anniversary of “Natasha’s law” coming into force.

The law requires all food retailers across the UK to display full ingredient and allergen labelling on every food item made on the premises and pre-packed for direct sale – such as sandwiches, cakes and salads.

We know it has had an impact. A recent Food Standards Agency (FSA) survey showed significant compliance by food businesses, greater awareness by both consumers and businesses, and a burgeoning trend of shop staff asking customers whether or not they had allergies. Above all, it showed that food-allergic consumers felt safer.

But for us, the law came with the heaviest price: our 15-year-old daughter Natasha’s life was snatched away from us in 2016. She had anaphylaxis after eating sesame which was not listed as an ingredient in a shop-bought baguette. She collapsed on a holiday flight to France and was pronounced dead later that day.

No parent should have to mourn the loss of their child, and to know Natasha’s death was wholly preventable remains a source of the deepest pain for my husband, Nadim, and me.

Tanya Ednan-Laperouse with Natasha
Tanya Ednan-Laperouse with Natasha. Photograph: Ian McIlgorm

The 2018 inquest into her death proved what we had already discovered – that there was a loophole in food-labelling regulations. The coroner said Natasha had felt “reassured” that the baguette was safe to eat by the absence of any mention of sesame on the labelling.

Natasha would be immensely proud of this law in her name because it has transformed everyday lives – particularly those of younger people who are more likely to purchase “food on the go”. Official figures say more than 2 million people are living with a diagnosed food allergy.

Food allergy is not a lifestyle choice or a preference for them: it is a serious and unpredictable disease that can cause the potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that led to Natasha’s death. In recent years, there has been an explosion of food allergy cases, particularly among children. This has led to a threefold increase over a period of 20 years in the number of hospital admissions caused by food allergies.

Supporters of our charity, The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, tell us that Natasha’s law is protecting people from potentially fatal allergic reactions. They can pick up a sandwich at lunchtime and feel confident that what they are eating is not going to do them any harm. Some now eat a wider variety of meals, because transparent labelling means they know exactly what does or doesn’t contain their allergens.

It has improved the quality of life for families, taking away some of the stress and fear that is part and parcel of having a child with a food allergy. A parent recently told me: “Labelling food is everything. It has made our lives so much better. We can look at ingredients and we trust them more, thanks to Natasha’s law.” Another mother simply said: “Without Natasha’s law, I do not think my two-year-old son would have made it this far.”

To date, businesses found to be non-compliant with Natasha’s law have been given support, improvement notices, cautions and written warnings by trading standards officers. But two years on, it is time to up the ante. Now we are calling for repeat offenders to face fines.

Sandwiches on sale in Tesco
‘Because of ‘Natasha’s law’, people with allergies can pick up a sandwich at lunchtime and feel confident that what they are eating is not going to do them any harm.’ Photograph: Islandstock/Alamy

There is also a worrying trend noted by the FSA, which is a 59% rise in the use of precautionary allergy labelling (Pal) by food businesses impacted by Natasha’s law. These labels say that one or more regulated allergens could be unintentionally present in a product, and may pose a risk. The misuse and overuse of these labels unnecessarily limits people’s food choices – and conversely also devalues the warning, which can lead to risk-taking by consumers. It forces people with food allergies to either limit the food they eat, or cross their fingers and hope for the best. One mother told me: “It feels a bit like saying, ‘risk it if you want, but we as the manufacturers make no promises’.”

We are asking for legislation and mandatory guidelines so that Pal is only applied where a risk of cross-contamination with an allergen has been identified.

There is also much more the government can do. We need a mandatory national register of fatal and near-fatal anaphylaxis cases, so that policymakers, scientists and healthcare professionals understand the actual scale of the problem. The government should appoint an allergy tsar as a matter of urgency, to act as a national lead and ensure people have appropriate healthcare support. Many do not.

Allergic disease is at epidemic levels in the UK. Around one in three people now has an allergy, with conditions ranging from food and drug allergies to asthma and eczema – and the numbers are rising.

So yes, tomorrow we will be celebrating the second anniversary of Natasha’s law, but there is also so much more to do to ensure people living with food allergies and their families can lead safer and more fulfilling lives.

Source link

Home  Articles  Disclaimer  Contact Us