What an absurd situation! Alpro, makers of one of the very few products that nut and dairy allergic children can eat safely, are actively preventing that very group from buying them! How? By slapping defensive ‘may contain traces of nuts’ warnings on all of their products. For the full story see my article on FoodsMatter but, in a nutshell…
Alpro are moving the production of their almond and hazel nut milks into the factory which currently produces all of their soya products and, as a result, have seen fit to add a ‘may contain traces of nuts’ warnings on their products. However, given their meticulous plans to control any possibility of cross contamination, those who know about these things believe that the level of risk will be so low that there will not be a ‘demonstrable and significant risk of allergen cross-contamination’ and therefore the warnings are unnecessary.
In the normal course of events, this would not be a big deal. Manufacturers being super careful – or being leaned on by their lawyers to cover their backs – are two a penny. What makes this case so difficult, and so regrettable, is that Alpro soya products are one of the very few foods that the thousands (and there are thousands) of children who are allergic to dairy and to nuts can eat. Not only are they safe but they are nutritious, easy to find and relatively cheap. And, in the case of Alpro’s follow on milk for toddlers, Junior 1+, it is the only non-dairy product on the market with an appropriate nutritional profile for that age group. If these children cannot have Junior 1+ they will have to go back onto extremely expensive amino acid infant formula costing the NHS nearly £100 a month per child.
Not only do parents buy the Alpro milks, yogurt and cream for use at home but they are widely used in schools, and through out the food service industry thereby enormously widening these children’s opportunities for socialising and being at least relatively ‘normal’.
But……. Once they carry a nut warning, no allergic family and no institution dealing with allergic children or adults will use them. Why? Because the ‘may contain’ warnings are so unspecific (they do not indicate the degree of risk that might be involved) that, as a matter of principle, nut allergic families and those catering for them do not use products with may contain warnings. Moreover, they teach their children never to eat products which carry a may contain warning.
Why have Alpro chosen to do this? Well, they maintain that, because they previously stated on pack that the product were made in a nut-free factory, as an ‘ethical’ company they need to be transparent and inform their customers of the change – and that, until their production is up and running they will not know whether it is really as safe as they hope so they cannot take any chances….
While one can admire their desire to be ethical, as a responsible manufacturer, should they not also have considered the distress that their decision would cause to an already vulnerable and disadvantaged group of families? Especially when the risk against which these families are to be warned will be so small that even the relevant regulating body sees no need for a warning. The suspicion has to remain that the decision to add a nut warning may have more to do with the lawyers in their American parent company, Dean Foods, the world’s largest dairy company, wishing to cover their backs than any ethics back home in the UK.
The situation has been further exacerbated by Alpro’s complete failure to interact with either their allergic customers or the bodies that represent them – and the fact that they have already printed, and are using, the new ‘warning’ packs even though production of nut milks in the soya factory does not start for another year.
As a result, parents of allergic children have formed a campaign group, AlproSOS, to bring pressure on the company – and Alpro’s public standing is plummeting. So far they have reacted by inviting the AlproSOS plus a few other worthies to a meeting to ‘explain their stance’ which produced nothing more than a verbal commitment to ‘re-evaluate the need for defensive labeling’ after the new production facilities have been operational for six months – in mid 2015, eighteen months from now.
What makes the situation even more ludicrous is that Alpro manufacture soya milk for a number of the major retailers who may well decide that their manufacturing processes are sufficiently rigorous that they do not need to use ‘may contain’ labelling. In which case we will have Alpro branded soya milk with ‘may contain’ labels sitting next door to an identical supermarket branded product with none!!
However, given the speed at which the ‘freefrom’, allergy-friendly food market growing, it is to be hoped that that another, or maybe several other, soya manufacturers will see the opportunity Alpro’s idiocy is offering them and step in to fill the gap. More power to them if they do!!