Major campaign victory will create safer environments for children with food allergies

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The Food Allergy Initiative is celebrating a major victory in its campaign to create safer environments for children with food allergies and has applauded the U.S. House of Representatives in joining the U.S. Senate in its approval of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.

The new bill requires food manufacturers to clearly state if a product contains any of the eight major food allergens responsible for over 90% of all allergic reactions; those allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy. The bill was passed by the Senate last March and will now be sent to President George W. Bush for his approval.

About 11 million people - roughly 1-in-25 Americans - are now believed to be affected by one or more food allergies, a disease triggered by the ingestion or contact with certain foods that may cause life-threatening reactions, or anaphylaxis, according to a recent Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network nationwide survey.

Seafood, common in the U.S. diet, includes fish (cod, salmon and tuna, for example), and shellfish (shrimp, crab and lobster, squid, scallop, clams, mussels, and snails). The study showed that a shellfish allergy is reported by 1-in-50 persons and a fish allergy by 1-in-250. The most commonly reported allergic reactions to shellfish were caused by shrimp, crab, and lobster. In the fish group, salmon, tuna, and halibut were the most common causes of reactions.

Like peanuts and tree nuts, a high number of recurrent and severe reactions were reported in the study for seafood allergies. Multiple reactions were reported by 53 percent for fish and 57 percent for shellfish. In 55 percent of fish reactions and 40 percent of shellfish reactions, evaluation by a physician or care in an emergency room was sought. Treatment of severe symptoms and administration of epinephrine, the drug of choice for treating a severe allergic reaction, was reported in only 15 percent of seafood-allergic patients.

The only way for someone with food allergies to keep from having a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction is to completely avoid foods and products that contain the allergens. Food-allergic consumers are forced to decipher labels for every food product they purchase, every time they shop - a tedious and terrifying process - made even more difficult by the technical language used in ingredient statements.

Consumers are assumed to know that albumin refers to egg, caseinate to milk, textured vegetable protein to soy. "Natural flavors" could refer to peanuts, tree nuts, or any other food. A recent study at Mount Sinai School of Medicine demonstrated that after reading a series of labels only 7% of parents of children with milk allergy were able to correctly identify products that contained milk and 22% of parents of children with soy allergy were able to correctly identify products that contain soy.

The Food Allergy Initiative has been leading the effort to insure that food-allergic consumers are able to more easily identify a product's ingredients, protect themselves from foods that would harm them, and stay healthy. "There is currently no cure for food allergies. Our goal is to develop one by 2010. In the meantime, we are trying to keep our children safe," explains Todd J. Slotkin, Chairman of the Food Allergy Initiative and father of twins with life-threatening food allergies. "When President Bush signs this bill into law, our government will have established the first line of defense in the prevention of deaths and/or serious illness from reactions to foods. We thank the federal legislators for the years of hard work and cooperative bipartisan effort to help the millions of Americans who live in fear of eating the wrong food with every bite they take."

Alexandra Jaffe, age 12 and allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, thanks Congress for passing the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act. "I can now start to trust what ingredient labels tell me. And I need to trust these labels because if I eat something I'm allergic to - even a tiny trace of it - I could die within minutes."

The bill will also benefit the estimated 2 million Americans with celiac disease. The bill calls for the Food and Drug Administration to issue final regulations defining "gluten-free" and permitting the voluntary labeling of products as "gluten-free" no later than 2008. Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that is triggered by eating the protein gluten, which is found in grains, including wheat, rye, and barley.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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