Chefs may have bemoaned the introduction of the EU Food Information for Consumers (FIC) rules requiring all eateries to know about the allergens in their foods; for food allergics, coeliacs and anyone on a restricted diet, this was only the most recent of a whole series measures that have hugely improved their lives. And not just in the UK. Since all EU measures apply across the EU, travelling in Europe with a food allergy or sensitivity has become a far less hazardous undertaking than it used to be.
Fifteen years ago we were still battling to get rid of the ‘25% rule’: if the ingredients of any ingredient in your dish (such as the pepperoni on a pizza) made up less that 25% of the total dish you did not have to declare them. Now all of the 14 major allergens, even they only form a tiny proportion of another ingredient (the fat in a pastry base for example) have not only be declared but highlighted so that they are very visible. Meanwhile, those selling any non prepacked food, be it in a farmer’s market or in a five star restaurant, have to be able to know and to be able to tell you about any of those 14 major allergens in that food.
And these are only the measures that are visible on the high street. To get to that position the last 15 years have seen Europe-wide research projects designed to set thresholds (like the 20 parts per million for gluten below which gluten is not thought to harm coeliacs and gluten sensitives) for all of the major allergens. UK scientists, researchers, charities and industry have been heavily involved in all of these work. But what happens now? One can only assume that we will no longer be invited to be involved in such European initiatives.
The UK Food Standards Agency has endorsed the regulations that came out of Brussels up till now so presumably they will remain in force in the UK. But what happens as Brussels goes on to the next stage in this work. If they introduce viable thresholds for other allergens, will they be implemented in the UK? Since the demotion of the Food Standards Agency from an independent department, the UK government’s record on such matter has not been good.
And what about electrosensitives? The condition is entirely dismissed in the UK but although there are as yet no regulation controlling emissions, the European Parliament has drawn up a number of resolutions advising the use of the precautionary principle with regard to electromagnetic radiation. Should these turn into some measure of control, this will now be of no help to electrosensitives in the UK.
Sadly, the UK has voted to leave – although it seems increasingly clear that genuine concerns over our membership of the EU were not the driving motivation for a very large number of those who voted to leave – and it is certainly questionable whether in a representative democracy, referendums are really the right way to decide such momentous issues. But we are where we are. Despite the very strong support for a second referendum (if you wish to add your signature to the petition you can do so here) it seems more practical and productive to stop worrying about what has happened and focus on how to sort out the mess that has resulted!