Some time ago Pip alerted us all to a change in the ingredients of Green & Black's chocolate. G&B had begun to list whole milk powder as an actual ingredient in their previously-dairy free dark chocolate, because, according to them
"A recent audit revealed that traces of milk residues can still be found on manufacturing equipment despite intensive cleaning"
"... there is actually no change to the risk to allergy-sufferers as the recipes and ingredients that go into the making of the bars have not changed. What we are now clearly stating on pack is that we cannot guarantee the absence of milk. It is almost certainly going to be present – albeit at a low level".
It was all very confusing, and I stand by what I wrote on Pip's blog at the time:
I think that G&B are confusing problem and solution here. If the problem is that very low level residue remains, this may need to be indicated on the packet. However, to include milk powder as an ingredient clearly indicates that the milk powder is used in significant quantities to actually produce the chocolate, rater than potentially being present due to cross-contamination.
Use in production is very very different to the presence of allergens remaining on the production line. A statement to the effect of there being a measurable residue in the region of x in the product would be more accurate and would probably allow people allergic to milk to make a more informed choice - and for vegans to happily buy the product. I now won't.
And now there's more. on a recent Friday afternoon expedition to buy some Haigh's chocolate frogs (ok, a whole bag of choclate liqorice balls, even though it sounds like a song the Chef would sing), I found out that Haigh's is now also listing milk products as an ingredient on all of its dark chocolate, even though previously some lines were dairy-free. A staff member told me this was purely for legal reasons and that there was no change at all to the actual ingredients. She also confirmed that this change occurred without even information being passed on to staff - she only realised because as a non-dairy-eater herself, she noticed the inclusion on the packet.
This really annoys me. I understand the reasons for including allergen information on packets, as anyone who knows a peanut-allergic child will attest. But to include an allergen as an ingredient is schtoopid. A person who is so highly sensitive to a certain ingredient that they will react to a trace element would't be stupid enough to take a punt on a product that 'may contain traces of' despite the clear warning.
Here's what I wrote to Haigh's. I am so grr-arr about this. I have bolded the points that I think are particularly salient, although I didn't do shouty-boldness to Haigh's.
As a vegan I have long appreciated the range of dairy-free dark chocolates available in your stores. A small dark peppermint frog was often the highlight of my Friday.
I was surprised and very disappointed to discover that you are now listing milk products as an ingredient in all your dark chocolate. A staff member told me that there had been no change to the ingredients used, but that concerns about food allergies had led you to make this change.
I was surprised because there was no signage or information available to let customers know about this change. And I was disappointed because I consider this change to be illogical.
My understanding of the term 'may contain traces of' is that even after commercial levels of cleaning of shared food manufacturing equipment, some residual chemical traces of an ingredient may remain. In some cases this will test above a specified detectable level.
It is of course important to place warnings on food labels so that people with food intolerances, sensitivities or allergies can take appropriate action. This is what the phrase 'may contain traces of' is intended to do.
If a person is so highly allergic to any ingredient - dairy, gluten, soy, nuts or any thing else - that the mere presence of a residual chemical trace will adversely affect them, then the warning that a product may contain traces of that ingredient is more than sufficient to let them know not to consume it. It tells them that exactly the level of allergen that can affect them may be present in their food. It is completely accurate and clear.
Anyone so highly sensitive as to be impacted by a trace amount would surely take the warning that trace amounts may be present as reason enough to avoid that food. It is illogical to assume that people who are sensitive to trace amounts need to be told that there is far, far more than just a trace amount in their food before they will respond to the warning.
For people with lower level sensitivities, who are not likely to be affected by residual chemical traces, the warning would be moot. But for people like me, who avoid dairy for ethical and health reasons, the presence of milk products in the ingredient list - even if the ingredient is in fact not used - entirely rules out that product.
As an ex-plaintiff lawyer practicing in injury law, I am fully aware of the need for food companies to disclose potential allergens not only for the safety of consumers but also for the protection of the company. Green & Black's have already done the same thing. However, what I find most disappointing is that although this change appears to be motivated by a desire to be extra cautious in food labelling, in fact, in pursuit of increased disclosure, you have misled customers as to the real ingredients of your products.
I can no longer eat any Haigh's products. I cannot choose to eat anything that lists dairy products as an ingredient, nor will I have any way of knowing if you ever actually do start using milk in the formerly dairy-free dark chocolates. I am concerned that no public notice was made available about your change of policy - which I confirmed with a staff member - and I am extremely disappointed that Haigh's has chosen to list a non-ingredient as an ingredient in many of its products when an accurate, precise and clear warning label was already present.