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Tragedy highlights need for transparency

This week, headlines have been dominated by an inquest into the tragic death of a teenage girl after she suffered a fatal allergic reaction to a Pret A Manger baguette.

The inquest heard the baguette contained sesame but the ingredient was not listed on the packaging, leading coroner Dr Sean Cummings to declare the sandwich chain’s allergy labelling inadequate.

Pret did not label baguettes as containing sesame seeds (despite six allergic reaction cases in the year before the girl’s death). But in fairness, nor did the law require it to do so.

Pret A Manger’s CEO Clive Schlee has since said his company will ensure there is ‘meaningful change’ following the girl’s death.

Let’s hope that means meaningful change to all its labelling policies, as it’s not the first time Pret’s practices have been called into question.

Earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned two of Pret A Manger’s ads for making ‘misleading’ claims about using natural ingredients.

Food and farming charity Sustain made the complaints on the basis that claims that Pret’s products were natural implied the chain’s food was free from artificial additives.

According to the ASA, Pret said in its defence that the ads did not claim, either expressly or implicitly, that they used only natural ingredients or that their food was additive and preservative free. And in relation to the claim the company was ‘doing the right thing… naturally’, Pret said the word ‘naturally’ in that context did not refer to food but instead meant ‘of course’, or ‘obviously’.

True, Pret’s misleading claims didn’t have the same tragic consequences as its ‘inadequate’ allergy labelling, but it does highlight the need for stricter laws – for reasons of both health and education – and total transparency when it comes to the labelling of food products and their ingredients.

So let’s await ‘meaningful change’ and hopefully a pledge that consumers will always take priority over profit.

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