Allergy in the headlines

There’s been lots of press coverage about Food Allergy and Intolerance Week. All of it good awareness-raising stuff, particularly if it helps to clear up the confusion out there between food allergy and food intolerance.

The Agency spends £1m a year on scientific and consumer research into food allergy and intolerance to ensure our policies (negotiating on allergen labelling legislation in Europe, guidance for industry and the general public) are based on robust evidence.

My colleague Sue Hattersley, the Agency lead in this area, will no doubt be talking about our research programme when she appears before the House of Lords’ Select Committee inquiry into allergy and allergic diseases next week

I’ve read the written evidence we’ve already submitted to the inquiry and it’s interesting stuff, particularly the theory that dermal exposure through the use of certain creams and oils, rather than simply eating a specific food, is now thought one of the reasons behind the rise in peanut allergy.

I was also interested to learn that a 2002 study into ‘May Contain Labelling,’ found that people with nut allergy took an average of 39% longer to shop and paid 11% more for food. I look forward to the Select Committee’s findings.

Lots of people contact us for advice on what to eat after using over-the-counter allergy tests. We’re concerned that many are not seeking clinical advice and removing many basic foods from their diet, such as wheat and diary products, unnecessarily. If in doubt, speak to your doctor.

But we also know that there were 829 hospital admissions in England in 2004/5 caused by anaphylactic reactions to food. And a more recent analysis of trends in admissions to hospital for food allergy has shown an increase of 500% since 1990, with some evidence for an increase in the prevalence of peanut allergy in children.

To mark the awareness week, we’ve provided a snapshot of our food allergy and intolerance policy and scientific work and promoted the training we lay on for local authority enforcement teams. If you want to know more about the condition, check out our consumer advice.