Industry figures including Great British Menu judge Prue Leith, chef and restaurateur Albert Roux OBE and Wahaca co-founder Thomasina Miers argue that the rules ‘reduce the spontaneity, creativity and innovation’ within the industry, in an open letter released today (10 March).
The new EU allergen regulations came in to force in December 2014 and require caterers to catalogue and display the presence of 14 allergens in any dish or drink.
Leith said: "These new rules on the labelling of allergens are a bureaucratic nightmare that will inflict significant damage on the catering industry, particularly on smaller business – which must be assessed before any more damage is done."
Wahaca co-founder Miers said: “It is a total fiasco and in my view it is the responsibility of the allergee to ask, not the restaurateurs to list. I had a severe allergy for six years so am coming at it from both sides of the fence.”
Jackie Hatton-Bell, co-owner of Cwtch Restaurant, Pembrokeshire, said: "It is needless regulation and a drain on our resources having to evidence allergens that are so insignificant compared to some other allergens we regularly see. I would love to see how this is being implemented in places like France and Italy!”
Campaign group Business for Britain invited chefs to sign the letter. Chief executive Matthew Elliott, said: “This is a costly overreaction from Brussels using a regulatory sledgehammer to crack a nut. Diners with allergies can and should be able to eat out with allergies, but this has unfairly placed too great a burden on the catering industry which will hurt customers, and in particular small independent businesses.”
Keeping diners safe
Lindsey McManus, deputy CEO of Allergy UK, asked chefs to remember the impact allergies have on people’s lives.
She said: “We fully understand that the new regulations will have an impact on the catering industry and that many chefs will have concerns that their creativity will be stifled. We would however urge restaurants to consider why these regulations have been instrumented in the first place.
“Severe food allergy is a potentially life threatening condition and those with a food allergy know only too well the risks posed when eating out, and frequently choose not to. The new regulations are there to help them make an informed decision as to which dishes that they can or can’t eat, and we would really hope that restaurants would see this as an opportunity to be able to provide advice on what a dish contains for a section of the community that until now has been very much excluded.”
The full list of EU covered allergies includes soya, nuts, peanuts, eggs, celery, crustaceans, cereals containing gluten, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, sesame seeds and sulphur dioxide.
The regulations were met with a mixed response upon their introduction in December 2014, with half of operators 'uncertain' about the new rules. In February this year the death of a diner who had a suspected allergic reaction after eating at a Manchester restaurant was hailed as a 'wake up call' for the industry to be aware of the new requirements.
The full text of the letter reads:
"As chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers and caterers, we are concerned about the bureaucratic nightmare the recent EU allergen regulations have imposed on our businesses.
"And it is not just the cost. They will reduce the spontaneity, creativity and innovation restaurants and others in the industry have enjoyed up until now.
"We need real change in the EU as the last thing small, independent businesses like restaurants and cafes need is to be hampered with further regulations and an even longer rulebook. What will the EU commission cook up next?!"