Sunflower oil being replaced as ingredient to avoid disruption; labels not changed

A combine harvester machine works on a sunflowers field, on September 20, 2014 in the outskirts of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP via Getty Images)

Some food businesses have reported to food safety agencies that they are switching to refined rapeseed oil as ingredient in certain food products instead of sunflower oil, due to the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on product availability, but before being able to make the change on the label.

The majority of the UK’s sunflower oil comes from Ukraine and food businesses said supplies are likely to run out in a few weeks with some businesses already experiencing severe difficulties.

Consequently, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) have jointly issued an advice to consumers, noting that some food products labelled as containing sunflower oil may instead contain refined rapeseed oil. It added that consumers should look out for additional information being provided by retailers and manufacturers to stay informed.

“FSA and FSS have been working hard to understand the recent pressures on our food supply chain and the interim measures needed to make sure certain foods – like crisps, breaded fish, frozen vegetables and chips – remain on sale here,” Emily Miles, FSA Chief Executive said.

“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.

“Retaining consumer trust remains an absolute priority for both organisations and we are urgently working with the food industry and other partners to ensure labels on food where sunflower oil has been replaced by refined rapeseed oil are made accurate as soon as possible.”

Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, deputy director of food at the British Retail Consortium, added: “The war in Ukraine has disrupted supplies of sunflower oil to the UK. Where sunflower oil exists as an ingredient in products, retailers will be substituting it with other safe oils, such as rapeseed oil.

“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.”