Those who have been following the Alpro defensive nut warnings saga will be glad to hear that some progress has been made. (For those who have no idea what I am talking about, see this post and this one.)
An article in the Grocer on Wednesday told us that, ‘following protests by allergy compaigners’ Alpro had agreed to continue producing its 1 litre +1Junior follow-on milk (the only guaranteed nut-free and dairy-free follow on milk on the market) in a nut free environment. This is definitely a ‘good thing’ and we are all delighted that Alpro have made this concession. However, that is by no means the end of the story.
The company are still proposing to merge the manufacture of their soya and nut milks in onto one unit and, despite the rigorous cross contamination protocols they are proposing to implement, are also still insisting that they will use a ‘may contain traces of hazelnut and almonds’ warning on all of their products apart, now, from the +1Junior milk.
Obviously, nut and dairy allergics, and the parents/carers of nut and dairy allergic children, would much rather that the manufacture was kept separate, but they recognise the commercial imperative for Alpro of combining the two under one roof. What they do not recognise is the need to add defensive ‘may contain’ warnings when, assuming that Alpro follow the protocols they propose, the risk of contamination will be extremely small. Indeed, it will fall far below the threshold of ‘significant and demonstrable risk’ suggested by the Food Standards Agency.
Alpro maintain that, because the products were previously made, and declared to be made, in a nut-free environment, if they are to be honest with their customers they must tell them that this is no longer the case. Moreover, until the new combined site is operational, they cannot be sure that the measures that they are proposing to avoid contamination will actually work and that there genuinely will be no risk of their nut milk contaminating their soya milk.
Both fair points, but….
What they did not take into account when they made this decision is that they cater to a very specific community: children with a nut, or a dairy and nut allergy, whose food options are already extremely restricted. By chance rather than design, the Alpro products had always been manufactured in a dairy and nut free environment. Because many of their products are also fortified, are all were reasonably priced and widely available, and no one else makes anything remotely similar, they are very widely used by this group of children. So widely used that removing them would not only leave a gaping hole in the children’s daily food choices, but would isolate them yet further both at school and among their friends as there would no longer be any relatively easily obtainable product that they could safely eat ‘in company’. By adding a ‘may contain traces of nut’ warning, Alpro are effectively removing the products from the children’s diets as no parent or carer of a nut allergic child will give that child a product with any kind of nut warning.
Parents of nut and dairy-and-nut-allergic children are passionate, well informed and not afraid of a fight. Most of them have had to fight to get their children diagnosed, sometimes to get them treated when suffering from what could be a fatal reaction, to find food they can eat, to enable them to live a relatively normal life. There was no way that they were going to allow a whole raft of their children’s favourite staple foods to be removed from their diet without a battle.
And they are right. We all recognise that to stay in business, manufacturers have to make money and therefore have to take sometimes unpalatable commercial decisions. But manufacturers also have responsibilities and if they find themselves, whether by accident or not, providing a vital service for a group in society, especially when that group is already seriously disadvantaged, then I believe they have a social duty to do their utmost, without literally putting themselves in the bankruptcy court, to support that group.
In this particular case, the way to really support the allergic community would be for Alpro to continue to manufacture their soya and their nut milks separately. Given the brouhaha that their decision to merge has caused, they may now be wishing that they had taken that route and, further down the road they may well consider once more splitting the manufacture. But for now, we are where we are. So, the best way forward seems to be to try to persuade them, as with the +1Junior, to leave the yogurt manufacture where it is, in a nut free site, and, as soon as the new joint facilities are operational, to test them to death to reassure themselves and the wider world that the protocols do work – and then to remove the ‘may contain’ labels.
For more on this see the AlproSOS Campaign Facebook page.