In Sympathy For Allergy Parents… Labelling Confusion

As an allergy mum, I salute all fellow allergy parents!

People who haven’t experienced what it’s like to be a parent of a child with allergies often have little comprehension of just how hard it is, and I am baffled by how many times people (even relatives) have scoffed and rolled their eyes when we mentioned Max’s CMPA (Cows Milk Protein Allergy) and secondary lactose issues. Myself and other allergy parents are no stranger to comments like;

  • ‘Oh, we had none of this namby pamby nonsense with allergies back in my day!’
  • ‘CMPA? So he can just have lactose free stuff… it’s the same as lactose intolerance innit.’
  • ‘Surely he can have a little… it’s not that serious?’
  • ‘You’re just being paranoid, it’s not an allergy.’

Yeah, seriously. It is incredibly frustrating and just makes life even harder. It’s difficult enough trying to safely feed a baby with an allergy, let alone dealing with unupportive and ignorant comments. This leads me onto the next part; Mintel have undertaken a study, published today, which has found that 63% of British people find it hard to identify allergens in food products.

This means that a huge amount of us are really struggling to ascertain what is or isn’t in a product we pick up at the supermarket. You’ll know who we are when you visit the shops and find the aisles blocked by flustered looking people who are feverishly scanning wrappers muttering under their breath!

As an allergy mum who has met lots of parents of children with various allergies, this study really comes as no surprise whatsoever. There are so many hidden allergens, or allergens (particularly milk) given different names which can throw you. For example – a parent may see ‘casein’, ‘hydrolysates’, ‘lactalbumin phosphate’ (the list is too long) and not realise that these are all dairy derived. It’s an easy mistake to make when your child is recently diagnosed, you’re an an exhausted parent, and you don’t see MILK in big bold letters in the ingredients.

For parents of children with allergies, this is a really big issue and it’s clear that it’s something that needs to be addressed, if so many people are clearly struggling. Prepackaged foods legally have to have allergens made clear, yet 48% of British people are unsure if labels are clear on what allergens are contained, and 15% of us are adamant that the labelling is not clear or explicit enough.

Emma Clifford, Associate Director of Food and Drink at Mintel, has said:

“Potential changes to allergen labelling has received a lot of high profile media coverage recently, with speculation that the Government is planning to introduce new changes following the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a Pret baguette. Given the perceived lack of clarity and the dangerous health implications that ambiguous allergen labelling can have on consumers, there is a real need for companies to make the presence of allergens very obvious on labelling.

“While current regulations require allergens to be listed in bold on the ingredients list, many companies choose to highlight certain free-from credentials on the front of packaging as well. At the moment this is not regulated and as such, there is no uniformity between the labelling used, which can fuel confusion among consumers, particularly given the huge amount of other product information on packaging. There is strong demand for a UK-wide labelling system for allergens which would unify the way in which companies communicate this information on packaging.” Mintel

Of course, allergies aren’t the only reason why allergens and food ingredients should be clearly labelled; only 20% of consumers avoiding certain ingredients are doing it due to allergies or intolerancies according to Mintel, but dietary changes and preferences are also important, so transparency in labelling is key for keeping us all happy really, especially for allergy parents who are already beleaguered with managing their child’s allergies, and who don’t have time to be wasting fretting over labels during the food shop with screaming children in the trolley throwing food everywhere (true story…)!

Allergy parents, can you relate to this study? Share your labelling confusion stories with us in the comments.

P.S.; here’s a handy link that may help you!

Love from Katie. Xx

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