Nestlé has defended itself and its allergy charity consort against criticism of the marketing of its ''lunchbox friendly'' muesli bars to schools despite them being unsuitable for nut allergy sufferers.
An article in The Sydney Morning Herald suggested that Nestlé and the allergy charity, Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA), had been encouraging a new range of ''lunchbox friendly'' Uncle Tobys muesli bars to be allowed in playgrounds despite them being unable to declare the bars as safe for people with nut allergies. The article also alleged that the pair had put pressure on schools to drop no-nut policies in an open letter signed by both parties.
A&AA told BakeryandSnacks.com that the journalist had failed to mention that the muesli bars do not contain nuts and that all nuts had been removed from the manufacturing plant. “This article has flagrantly misrepresented us, our organisation and the work we do with the food industry in particular Nestle Uncle Tobys,” it said.
“Lunchbox friendly” confusion
Margaret Stuart, corporate and external relations manager at Nestlé Australia, told us that the range, labelled “lunchbox friendly”, has been developed so that children can take it to school within existing school allergy management policies.
She said that the new range does not contain nuts and its muesli bar production facility had been closed down for a week in order to pull equipment apart for total cleaning. She said Nestlé has also worked with suppliers to understand their supply chains, and are now working to communicate the implications of this to schools and parents.
However Stuart said that it cannot state that this product is suitable for people with nut allergies since uncertainties inevitably remain. “We can’t be completely certain that any of our ingredients haven’t been in contact with nuts somewhere in storage or transport before they reach us. For this reason, we can’t recommend our muesli bars for people with nut allergies.”
Conflict of interest?
The Sydney Morning Herald journalist compared this tie-up with the Heart Foundation's endorsement of some McDonald's products with a ''tick'' of health approval. Nestlé said that A&AA has not endorsed the Uncle Tobys range and that there is no mention of A&AA on the pack.
A&AA’s treasurer, Geraldine Batty, told BakeryandSnacks.com that its endorsement cannot be bought. “We regularly provide consulting services to the food industry, it’s a very important part of what we do to benefit allergy sufferers. We have not endorsed any Nestlé products.”
A&AA said it had received funding from Nestlé for several years through unrestricted educational grants and fees charged for consultation which requires a significant amount of time and resources, but denied a conflict of interest.
Batty said: “An important part of our role is working with the food industry to help them with allergen management. This work has been hugely beneficial to people with allergies in the past. We’ve worked for big and small companies, including competitors to Nestlé. Where this work is a big drain on our time and resources we will charge for our services.”
The article made reference to an open letter signed by the two organisations encouraging schools to make allergen restrictions – i.e. banning nuts from schools – part of an overall management plan, saying to think the risk can ever be totally removed would be to increase the risk to those with a food allergy.
The article suggested that the pair had made attempts to encourage schools to drop their no-nut policies. However Nestlé says this is not true.
A&AA said that the intention of the letter – seen by BakeryandSnacks.com - was simply to be clear about for whom the range is and is not suitable and to remind schools that allergen restrictions need to be supported by a raft of other strategies like teacher training and washing hands after eating.