The parents of Fulham teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died from an allergic reaction after eating a baguette, have been made OBEs for their campaigning work to help others.
Tanya and Nadim Ednan-Laperouse set up the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation which – working with government – has created Natasha’s Law to close a serious loophole in food labelling.
The couple, who live off Lillie Road with son Alex, 17, are being made OBEs to recognise their charitable work in raising awareness of the risks of food allergies which affect two million people in the UK.
News of the honour came, said Nadim, “like a lightning bolt from the sky without any warning of a storm”.
“It was an utter surprise,” he added. “I initially thought it was a phishing email and I didn’t open it as it didn’t have the usual email look. Then we were sitting down to eat, and Tanya saw she had the same email. We high-fived each other!”
The fact that Tanya and Nadim were both honoured was especially satisfying as the husband-and-wife team set up the foundation together.
Natasha, a student at Lady Margaret School, Parsons Green (having attended All Saints Primary in Bishops Park), died on 17 July, 2016, after collapsing on a flight from Heathrow to France.
Shortly before boarding she’d eaten an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette from a Pret a Manger in Terminal 5.
Both Natasha and Nadim had checked the label carefully, as they always did because of Natasha’s severe allergies to milk, eggs and sesame seeds.
But because labelling law didn’t require food freshly made on the premises to itemise ingredients, there was no mention of the sesame seeds it contained.
Early in the flight Natasha became severely ill and, despite being given adrenaline shots from two EpiPens by her father, was declared dead at hospital in Nice the same day.
Natasha’s Law comes into force this October, ending the loophole that cost the 15-year-old her life by making full ingredient and allergen labelling mandatory; hopefully sparing other families the same tragic ordeal.
“Had Natasha not died, it’s probable that today – five years on – we’d still have the same laws, and still have that same jeopardy to life,” said Nadim.
The work of the charity set up in Natasha’s name goes beyond food labelling to encompass broader legislation, educate the public and chefs, and undertake scientific research with the ultimate goal of eradicating allergic disease.
Part of the task is raising awareness that food allergies are not a lifestyle choice. “It’s not what some people might call ‘fussy eaters’, it’s a life-threatening condition,” said Nadim.
Natasha was a teenager with a strong sense of social justice, having experienced bullying as a five and six-year-old from youngsters who taunted her for being different, because of her food allergies. It became so serious that her parents took her out of the school and moved her to All Saints Primary.
Fulham born-and-bred, Natasha developed an empathy with underdogs. “She’d always take the side of the person being bullied, for whatever the reason, rather than doing nothing,” said Nadim.
She’d done a work experience placement at the Matrix law firm, which specialises in human rights work, and had enjoyed that. “It wasn’t long before she died,” said Nadim, adding that had Natasha been alive today and working for her own charity “she’d have been like a lit match; on fire, working on all fronts”.
“She’d get really annoyed and angry about injustice,” said her father. “She’d say: ‘How can companies or people do such things to other people?’”
Nadim has spoken at assemblies at Lady Margaret, where an annual creative writing competition has been set up for Year 10s in Natasha’s honour, celebrating one of her great strengths at school.
Both he and Tanya also addressed H&F Council’s community safety committee, helping steer the council’s allergy policy and resulting in the local authority writing to all 2,000 food outlets in the borough to raise awareness of the issue.
“The council has been supportive,” said Nadim. “We talked about it at the committee meeting, and the council sent out a good-practice reminder. It’s great that the council did that.”
He hopes that the adoption of Natasha’s law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on 1 October (with Scotland soon following) will further raise awareness of the need for transparency in all food labelling. It compels full allergen and ingredient labelling on all pre-packed foods for sale, including sandwiches and salads made on the premises.
Pret has already revised its own policy to include full allergen labelling in the wake of Natasha’s death.
Statistics show that in two decades there has been a 615 per cent increase in hospital admissions in the UK for anaphylaxis, the potentially life-threatening reaction mainly caused by food allergies.
“It’s now the equivalent of one child in every class in every school being at risk,” added Nadim Ednan-Laperouse OBE.
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