Sunflower oil being swapped for rapeseed oil without label change as shortages hit the UK

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AUTHOR: Molly Long
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The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) have advised consumers to exercise caution following the news some food products labelled as containing sunflower oil may instead contain refined rapeseed oil. 

According to the agencies, this is happening because of sustained supply chain shortages.

The majority of the UK’s sunflower oil comes from Ukraine. As Russia continues to invade the country, this is having a serious impact on the supply of this commonly used oil, as well as other products

This has led to some food manufacturers urgently replacing sunflower oil with refined rapeseed oil before being able to make the change on the label,” the FSA and FSS said in a joint statement. 

Due to this, the FSA and FSS are advising consumers to look out for additional information provided by retailers and manufacturers, to have the best chance of staying informed about what they’re buying and eating. 

Some of the foods most likely to contain refined rapeseed oil rather than sunflower oil are crisps, breaded fish, frozen vegetables and chips. 

These remain on sale, but the agencies say they are working across Government and the food industry to understand how the shortages can be navigated “in a way that is safe and in the interests of consumers”. 

FSA Chief Executive Emily Miles says: “We have looked at the immediate food safety risk of substituting sunflower oil with refined rapeseed oil – particularly to people with a food allergy – and it is very low. We know allergic reactions to rapeseed oil are very rare and – if they do occur – are mild.”

She adds that the FSA and FSS are “urgently working” with the food industry to ensure labels are amended as soon as possible. 

Deputy Director of Food at the British Retail Consortium, Andrea Martinez-Inchausti confirmed this, saying: “Retailers are looking to change product labels as soon as possible; where sunflower oil is a key ingredient, such as crisps, retailers will imprint information on substitute oil onto existing labels. Retailers’ customer services will be answering questions on all their own brand products.”

As part of ongoing action, the FSA and FSS have published a risk assessment on the chance of allergic reactions as a result of the oil switch. 

The upset of sunflower oil supply chains is just one of many impacts the continued Russian invasion of Ukraine is having on food around the world. 

In Ireland, a €12 million initiative has been launched to tackle the country’s food security, which is threatened by the conflict, as well as climate change.

Several multinational food corporations like Danone have also pulled out of their Russian operations, while others such as Nestlé, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s have attracted negative attention for not doing so quickly enough. 

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