Wednesday, 6 May 2015

'Vote' on 'Vegan' / 'Vegetarian'

You have until 10pm tomorrow to have your say on how the country is governed.

And you have until 5pm Friday to have your say on how vegan and vegetarian labelling guidance is changed - or not - to reflect allergy considerations.

I have been pretty surprised that this issue has received relatively little attention, given that it affects vegetarians, vegans, those with milk, egg or fish allergies, lactose intolerants, and perhaps others, such as those following particular diets for religious reasons.

In a nutshell, DEFRA are considering relaxing the guidance on the use of the terms ‘vegan’ and ‘vegetarian’ on food labelling. Manufacturers labelling their foods ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ should be able to demonstrate that their products have not been contaminated by non-vegan or non-vegetarian ingredients, according to guidance. To do otherwise is misleading, and to mislead is illegal.

But the guidance has been in place for almost a decade, and has been largely ignored, unenforced and unpoliced. The Vegan Society doesn’t support it, and certainly doesn’t apply it to their trademarked products. Sean of the popular Fat Gay Vegan blog also has just declared his backing for a relaxation of the guidance.

Other voices - notably Adrian Ling’s, of Plamil Foods - disagree strongly, and believe that the guidance and rules should remain - and be enforced.

I lean towards supporting Ling’s position. I’m neither vegan nor food sensitive, but for me, to have a situation where a ‘vegan’ food can carry a ‘may contain dairy’ warning is counter-intuitive. For me, allergy considerations trump vegan considerations - we’re talking lives, remember - and many with milk allergies consider ‘vegan’ food to be safe for them.

I don’t believe, as some vegans have argued, that vegan foods will stop being produced by manufacturers if we stick to and enforce this guidance. What will happen instead is that vegans will have to scrutinise labels more closely to check that the foods satisfy their requirements. This is something those with food allergies, for whom an error can have far more serious consequences, have to do as a matter of course.

Does all this boil down to an argument between who should do a bit more label reading than they may already do? Who better deserves to be reassured by a label of ‘vegan’ - vegans or those with food allergies?

I won’t tell you how to ‘vote’ but I would urge those with an interest in these subjects to have their say. The major share of my sympathies - if you can call them that - lie with the food sensitive community, as my work is mainly aimed at them, and so my views are formulated on that basis, but bear in mind that I am not personally affected by the outcome. You, reader, may well be. Do find out what it means, if you're unsure.

To read more, I blogged on this some weeks ago. Plamil Foods’ plea can be read here.

For the opposite viewpoint, see the FGV Blog here. I also wrote a piece for Foods Matter, explaining the Vegan Society position, here.

To tell DEFRA what you think, click here or email

Monday, 20 April 2015

Energy healing: an Allergy UK response

You may remember my blog of a weeks ago about the energy healer who contacted me, offering to cure me of food allergies which I don't have, using untested and unorthodox methods.

It was obviously worrying. She seemed prepared to offer her 'instant' treatment, and then encourage her patient to consume their trigger food allergen, without any orthodox medicine or resuscitation equipment to hand. Her site confuses and conflates allergies and intolerances, and encourages self-diagnosis - 'give it a go at home' - of food sensitivity (including nuts and peanuts) using kinesiology.

I decided to ask either an allergist or allergy charity to try to intervene; it was clear the healer wasn't going to listen to my concerns, and seemed genuinely convinced she had found a cure for food allergy.

It wasn't easy. Several politely declined to get involved.

Allergy UK, though, raised their hand. Their nurse, Amena Warner, was happy to speak to the healer in order to voice concerns about her unvalidated methods of diagnosis and desensitisation. I introduced them via email.

I would like to be able to report a 'happy' ending to this, but a week or so on, Allergy UK's PR officer contacted me, and admitted that the healer remained unmoved by Team AUK's appeals. The charity has issued the following statement, which I'm happy to reproduce in full:

As a patient information charity, Allergy UK prides itself on providing access to factual and useful information in order to educate people about allergy and intolerances, how to manage the condition and the treatment methods involved.

We are aware that some individuals promote alternative methods of treating allergies and will claim to be able to use holistic approaches to cure the condition. Allergy UK will always try to educate these individuals about allergy and the science behind an allergic reaction so that they are aware of the dangers that they could be exposing a sufferer to, whilst using their alternative methods. Sometimes these people will take our advice and will thank us for pointing them in the right direction, but sometimes they are so passionate about what they do that they just do not see the reality of the dangers they are exposing people to. 

Unfortunately on this occasion, they continue to promote their method of ‘healing’, despite us providing extensive clinical advice and highlighting the risks involved.

This is why awareness is so important. The more people that receive factual information about allergies, the less likely it is that sufferers will expose themselves to these kind of dangers as they will know about the real risks involved. We urge the public to share information from our website so that people can get the correct information and can make informed decisions about how they choose to manage their condition. If you have any questions about allergy or intolerances, please contact us on 01322 619898 or visit

Allergy UK's Allergy Awareness Week for 2015 starts today, the 20th, and runs until the 26th. The theme is Living in Fear (#livinginfear), which needs no further explanation. No doubt this week you'll be hearing a lot about the emotional and psychological difficulties of living under the threat of an anaphylactic reaction.

The business of fear can be lucrative, argues an article which defines happiness as 'freedom from fear'. People will pay for happiness - through the nose, quite often - and those living with the misery of allergy are vulnerable to both unscrupulous and deluded purveyors of treatments which promise that 'freedom from fear', essentially. The way to combat it, I'd like to believe, is through education and advocacy, and through supporting those - such as Allergy UK - who are doing it right. What other way is there? Campaigning or arguing for tighter regulation or legislation? Naming and shaming?

Next time something like this happens, I may respond differently. But for now, I don't have the answers. Does anyone?

Thursday, 16 April 2015

CD: WYNTK - NEW edition!

There were late nights last autumn, when I set about trying to fully decipher upcoming changes to food allergen labelling laws, and what this would mean for consumers with food allergy, food intolerance and - especially - coeliac disease. Should gluten necessarily be mentioned in the ingredients when present? Is there any circumstance when you might see wheat unhighlighted? Where is a 'contains' statement still permitted? Answers: No, yes - and on bottles of booze. (As was I through much of this period.)

I needed answers in order to complete an update of my book on coeliac disease, the earlier print runs of which had almost sold out, and which my publishers had decided could do with a fresh new look.

Hoping and assuming you'll forgive the self-promotion, am happy to say that Coeliac Disease: What you need to know, the new edition, is published today, and to complement the extensively rewritten sections on labelling laws, I've added a lot of material on the food issues which tend to confuse those struggling to get to grips with the condition immediately following diagnosis - barley malt derivatives, GF and non-GF oats, glucose syrup, Codex wheat starch, spelt, and such like. Advice on eating out - and the new laws as they apply to food service - has also been added.

FODMAPs - which barely got a mention first time around - are given more emphasis in the 2015 issue, as they may be involved in persistent symptoms among GFD-compliant patients. There's also more on other food hypersensitivities, other gut disorders - and an updated section on the innovative research and future therapies which may lie ahead - vaccines, enzymes, drugs and the sometimes bizarre new developments in free from food.

I hope, if you choose to buy it, that you find it practical and supportive. Am always happy to answer questions and also welcome feedback on how to improve any future edition - as one will no doubt be necessary should those darned labelling laws ever get revised once again ...

Coeliac Disease: What you need to know is available from Amazon (UK) (£8.99), WHSmith (£6.29), Waterstones (£8.99), and Amazon (US) ($9.16)

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Why Vegan is not always Dairy Free: Part II

It's almost a year since I wrote a blog on why a 'vegan' declaration on a food or drink may not necessarily mean in practice that the product was safe for those with milk (or egg, or fish) allergy.

Following on from that post, my colleague and editor at Michelle Berriedale-Johnson asked me to write an article on the issue. I agreed, and started to research the subject in more depth. The piece has just been published on Foods Matter here

Do read it, if only for the thoughtful comments from Plamil's Adrian Ling. A summary, in point form:

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Hotel Chocolat and the milk-free 'milk' chocolate that may not be

Hotel Chocolat have some ‘milk-free 'milk' chocolate’ products - flavoured with almond not milk - which many milk allergic or intolerant consumers, and parents of, took to mean ‘milk allergy safe’ - and bought them.

For reasons which aren’t yet precisely clear, on Thursday (I believe), HC began to email those who’d bought the chocolate online ‘a note to clarify the dietary status’ of the products.

“ … no milk is added to the recipe, however our factory environment does use dairy products and there is always a risk of traces of dairy, making this product unsuitable for anyone with a specific dairy allergy”

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Gluten free and Free From at IFE

The International Food Exhibition (IFE) is a two-yearly trade show held at Excel in March of every odd year, and is usually a good showcase for both free from food, and vegan and vegetarian food, in which I also have a keen professional and personal interest. Here are some of the highlights from 2015's show.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Energy healing: an instant food allergy cure?

So this came in yesterday: 

Hi Alex, 

I read your blog on food allergies. I teach energy healing, and I have worked out a way to harmonise the threat of a potential allergen, so that the body no longer reacts. The treatment is instant, the results can be easily seen straight away with kinesiology, or indeed by consuming the foodstuff. 

I was wondering if you would be interested in writing a first person article on this in exchange for the treatment?  

For more info please refer to my website, and specifically this page on allergy desensitisation. 

Kind regards,

My response, lightly edited to avoid identification, was this:

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Food Sensitive Community: not fair game for political point-scoring

Top chefs attack EU rules on allergens in food reads the Telegraph this morning, to a collective sigh of frustration from those with food allergies, coeliac and intolerances, whose lives (in the case of those living with potential anaphylaxis) don't appear to be as important as the 'spontaneity, creativity and innovation' of the chefs which is supposedly being stifled by EU FIC 1169/2011 - the '14 allergens' labelling laws.

This latest salvo appears to have been co-ordinated by anti-EU campaign group Business for Britain, whose poorly informed take on the matter can be read here. They say that the laws require

" ... caterers and restaurant owners to conduct a comprehensive audit of every ingredient present within their dishes, which must then be displayed on menus ... "