Most weeks tend to be 'interesting' when part of the world of allergies. There is always something that you have to watch out for, be aware of, try to get your head round, and so on. It's a minefield! This week has been no different! In fact, this week has been very interesting, educational and worry some! Let me explain...
As a regular shopper at Tesco, and having had much faith in their 'free from' range up (up until a few weeks ago when their shelves were pretty much empty, and have remained so!), I have been a 'fan' of their Facebook page.
Earlier this week, a mother vented her frustration on this page about the 'free from' chocolate buttons that Tesco sell, and was querying their new labelling. These chocolate buttons are Callum's all-time favourites so I started to pay more attention to the post and the considerable comments it had already received. This mother quite rightly was querying why the packaging now quoted 'may contain nuts' when previously it hadn't. Tesco customer services explained somewhat cack handedly that it was to do with new EU labelling laws coming into effect in December 2014, and how they were changing all labelling because of this. Unless production methods have changed, there is no justified cause to use ‘may contain nuts’ where it has not been used previously. In fact, the new legislation makes it quite clear that there has to be a damn good reason for such a statement.
Seems innocent enough. Now, imagine you have a child with a nut allergy; peanut, tree nut etc are all different types of allergies, and thus require all products to be thoroughly scrutinised to ensure they are safe, and to have them mentioned individually as allergens. Callum is allergic to both, so we have to be extra cautious, and can't take the risk if something is deemed as 'may contain nuts'. When you go and do your weekly shop, even though you should ALWAYS check the labels regularly in case something changes, you tend to hope that products you've previously bought knowing were safe would remain so. You can begin to understand why this seemingly innocent query was generating such a large response, whilst empathising with this woman, and in my case, wanting to know what the response was!!
Unfortunately, in spite of a large volume of people bombarding Tesco with queries and concerns (myself among them!), the repeated PR comment of 'As a responsible retailer we have taken the decision to change labelling before the legislation is enforced' just doesn’t cut it.
It was obvious that Tesco realised how big an issue this was, when the next morning, a new level of PR response was being churned out, along with ‘apologies’ for the previous nights responses given in error.
It has been, frankly, a PR disaster for Tesco. Twitter and Facebook in particular went bonkers over it. I’ve never seen my phone ping with so many messages, queries, notifications etc. I’ve taken a screen dump of the conversation on the Tesco Facebook page, close to 300 comments at last count. And I am forwarding this to various government bodies to see what can be done, to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Something good has to come from something so bad. Education is the first step!
The new labelling laws are being brought in by the EU to supposedly make things easier for anyone suffering with allergies. When done responsibly, and there are a number of companies proving that they’ve taken this seriously and are doing a wonderful job, such as Plum Baby. It’s a shame that one of the UK’s largest retailers has opted to take the easy option instead of putting a bit more effort into something so serious.
Allergies are life threatening. They are very difficult to live with. It’s not something that is taken lightly. It can’t be. Nut allergy quite simply, can kill. That is why you’re given an epi-pen if severe, to give you half a chance of surviving if you’re exposed to nuts when severely allergic.
To make a blanket sweeping statement of ‘may contain nuts’ is going to result in a very large proportion of people being unable to buy products that previously they considered safe. When you have a very restricted diet to contend with already, does that seem fair?! No, you’re absolutely right, it doesn’t!
Tesco, please take note, this will cost you, it probably already has!
A large amount of the allergy market have lost a lot of faith in you.
We just can’t risk the lives of our precious children!