FSA Chair writes to DEFRA Minister supporting Owen’s Law

Posted: 31 January 2024 | | No comments yet

Professor Susan Jebb has written to Mark Spencer, Minister of State for Food, Farming and Fisheries at DEFRA urging Government to set an “expectation that food businesses provide allergen information in writing”.


Following its December 2023 Board Meeting, Professor Susan Jebb, Chair of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has written to Mark Spencer, Minister of State for Food, Farming and Fisheries at DEFRA, supporting the implementation of Owen’s Law.

New Food has previously reported on the passing of Owen Carey, who suffered a fatal anaphylactic shock after eating a grilled chicken burger at a Byron Burger restaurant in London. The Owen’s Law campaign was created to see a change in the law that “compels restaurants to state the allergens in their dishes, specifically on the face of the main menu”.

Now, in a letter to the DEFRA Minister, Jebb has shared that the FSA is “committed to making lives better for the two million people who have a food allergy, food intolerance or coeliac disease and have had a programme of work in place on food hypersensitivity since 2019”.

The Chair of the FSA has written to Spencer to explain that, currently, food businesses can provide allergen information by any means they choose, including verbally, provided there is written signage to inform customers on how that information can be found.

However, following research and engagement with consumers and allergy charities, the FSA has found there to be a demand for a “greater emphasis on detailed written information readily accessible to the consumer”.

What could Owen’s Law mean for the food industry?

“[It] is both desired by consumers and should help them and businesses better manage their risks. It also indicated that this is more effective when supported by a conversation,” wrote Jebb.

In the letter to Spencer, Jebb has stated that the FSA Board recommends that FSA policy should be updated to reflect “the need for there to be both clear written information and a conversation”.

Jebb went on the reveal that the Board “firmly agreed” it should set an “expectation” that food businesses including restaurants and cafes provide allergen information in writing as well as having a conversation with consumers with food hypersensitivity.

Pivotally, Jebb went on to urge that the provision of written information should be a legal requirement in order to “maximise the likelihood of this happening”.

The FSA is now waiting on a response from Ministers to understand whether legislative change will be required. Jebb has also committed to the FSA working to develop “strengthened guidance” for food businesses on how to provide written allergen information as well as a “useful conversation” so that it can quickly start to make improvements that will be helpful for people with food hypersensitivity when they are dining out.

Liljia Polo-Richards, Director and Founder of Allergy Companies has told New Food that she believes it is “important, and necessary, to improve allergen information standards within hospitality.

“I welcome the introduction of consistent standards across the industry, although it is important to remember that many establishments already have clear allergen menus available for their customers and also initiate conversations with them around allergies. In order for the Law to be implemented successfully, it is crucial that the Food Standards Agency works closely with both consumers and the hospitality industry to ensure that all aspects of the law are considered before enacting it,” continued Polo-Richards.

“Clear guidance will need to be offered to business owners and hospitality workers, to ensure that they are supported both during the transition period and following its full implementation. Such guidance should also factor in nuances in processes that different venues might need to follow, depending on their size and set up.”

Going further, Polo-Richards explained that she believes that, in order for the Law to be successfully introduced, “more awareness needs to be raised amongst consumers around the risks associated with eating out with allergies and ensuring that they understand the importance of declaring their allergies when in conversation with restaurants. Many individuals do not appreciate how cross-contamination (and avoidance of it) plays a huge role in keeping them safe, and therefore purely relying on allergen information on menus might not fully protect them.”

Meanwhile, Sarah Knight, Founder and CEO of The Allergy Team told New Food:“Implementing Owen’s Law would be a huge step forward for families living with food allergy and so we welcome the FSA’s letter supporting the campaign.

“People with food allergies have to risk assess every situation involving food, and have to make a judgement call about whether they will be safe when they eat out – but they can only base this on the information they have before them on the menu and conversations with waiting staff. Many restaurants already list calorie content and label dishes as vegan or vegetarian, highlighting the 14 main allergens on their menus is the obvious next step and one which could save lives.”

However, there is still a way to go before the law is brought into force. Speaking to New Food on the importance of the sector and consumers speaking out and urging Spencer to follow the FSA guidance and in order to get Owen’s Law approved, Paul Carey, father of Owen and Head of the Campaign for Owen’s Law has said: “We really need as many people as possible to get their MPs, regardless of their party, to write to the minister, Mark Spencer MP, urging him to accept the FSA’s recommendation in full. With a tail wind we could get the law changed this year. “