EFA, the umbrella organisation representing people with food allergy in Europe, is deeply concerned about the latest developments on the use of precautionary labelling by Alpro, one of the biggest suppliers of soya products in Europe, which could result in decreased quality of life and life-threatening consequences for many people with allergy.
The company has decided to end the outsourcing of the production of nuts-based products, thus starting producing them in their own production lines together with soya products. Although these changes are going to happen in one-year time (December 2014), Alpro has specified that for test purposes, nuts and similar products may enter the production lines some months earlier. While the company has promised to follow all the best possible measures to avoid cross-contamination, Alpro claimed the necessity to adopt a precautionary labelling policy due to liability reasons and to warn allergic people, and has already started to change the labels of some of its soya products that used to be safe for them.
These changes to Alpro soya products manufacture and labelling could severely impact the health of the most vulnerable allergic people, considering that a great percentage of people with milk allergy, often children, the biggest consumers of Alpro products today, has an accompanying nut allergy too. EFA is therefore extremely worried to see that these products, which are often the "default" soya products in most supermarkets and are highly recommended by dieticians due to their calcium content, will no longer be guaranteed for people with nut allergies. "Of course I am extremely saddened that they should be making this change - which we are also now finding affects a number of own brands for supermarkets too. The biggest concern I have is the retail availability of alternatives for this vulnerable community - which in many non-urban areas is negligible", said Mr. David Supple, father of a highly- allergic 13-year old boy.
"Alpro argues that the new labelling is based on transparency for customers. As representatives of people with allergies, we feel that their decision has nothing to do with transparency, but on the contrary is driving people with severe allergies to further difficulties", said Mrs. Yanne Boloh, from the French Association for the Prevention of Allergies (Association Française pour la Prévention des Allergies - AFPRAL). "May contain" labels have been shown to lead to frustration and risk-taking behaviours in allergic consumers, resulting in dreadful outcomes as 8% of accidental reactions in people may be attributed to having ignored one of these labels.1
EFA's position on the precautionary labelling is clear. In the long-term it should be abolished as science enables thresholds, while in the short-period it should only be the last resort after the implementation of best practices to avoid cross-contamination has failed. Allergen risk management should be the standard for all food business operators and in this year to go, Alpro could take a decisive step forward by auditing the production line and thus creating a win-win situation both for the company and its allergic customers. "From our experience in Norway, we know that products by food manufacturers who have good allergen control are preferred by grocery stores. Grocery stores prefer allergy-friendly products that can reach the largest consumer group. Unfortunately, Alpro's decision to introduce precautionary labelling seems to be a step in the wrong direction both in terms of consumer friendliness and market share", commented Helle S. Grøttum, Expert on Food allergies in the Norwegian Asthma and Allergy Association (NAAF). It is a common misconception by food manufacturers that by using a "may contain" warning they are helping the allergy sufferer, when this often is not the case. We are in ongoing talks with Alpro in the hope that we can encourage the company to re-evaluate the decision, particularly as Alpro is planning to use the most stringent measures and allergen control procedures in all its manufacturing facilities for its soya products.
Press release from Alpro
Alpro to manufacture fast growing almond and hazelnut products at its production facilities by end 2014
Due to growing demand, Alpro is planning to start manufacturing almond and hazelnut products at its production sites. Although this change will not be implemented until the end of 2014, Alpro has started to change its packaging in anticipation.
Alpro took the decision in 2013 to manufacture these products at its production facilities from the end of 2014 to build on the success of its almond and hazelnut products.
Until now Alpro packaging has always carried the statement 'produced in a nut-free environment', but being aware of the concerns of those who suffer with nut allergies, Alpro decided to communicate transparently with its consumers and inform them about the forthcoming change via its website and packaging. The presence of the 'nut-free environment' claim on pack is the main reason for Alpro to label with 'may contain traces of'. It would not have been ethical at this stage of early implementation to proceed with no indication of the production change on pack.
Consumers will begin to see that Alpro's soya products (such as soya drinks, desserts, soya alternatives to yogurt and cream), rice and oat products are labelled 'may contain traces of almonds or hazelnuts'.
This early labelling change is to make sure that consumers are made aware before the actual integration of nut products into the company's production facilities. Product testing will be carried out in controlled circumstances with particular focus on allergen management.
Alpro is always keen to ensure the highest safety and top quality of its products. All possible measures will be put in place to avoid any cross-contamination between almond - hazelnut and soya products at any time. This means that almond and hazelnut ingredients will be separated as much as possible during the manufacturing process and there will be thorough cleaning procedures.
After the implementation of the production changes and following best practice, Alpro may review its approach to labelling based on the available findings. In the meantime it will keep lines of communication open with relevant organisations and consumers. This may result in the future removal of the 'may contain traces' statement in line with applicable regulations.