Dr James le Fanu’s weekly roundup in today’s Telegraph carries the following :
Sue Hattersley, head of the department at the Food Standards Agency responsible for imposing the “bureaucratic nightmare” of new regulations complained of by 100 leading chefs and restauranteurs last week claimed, by way of justification, there is evidence that those with food allergies “are reluctant to go out to eat spontaneously for fear of any allergic reaction that might result”. As it is a simple enough matter for anyone visiting a restaurant to inquire about the ingredients on a menu, I suspect that this “evidence” is likely to be less than compelling.
Indeed, over-zealous concerns about the hazards of food allergy are almost certainly a major contributing factor to its increasing prevalence in recent years. This paradoxical insight was prompted initially by the observation that peanut allergy is 10 times less common in Israeli compared to British children. Professor Gideon Lack of London’s King’s College Hospital speculated this might be due to the popularity in Israel of Bamba infant food, which contains peanuts, and sure enough his subsquent study, as recently reported in this paper, in which children were randomly selected to consume peanuts when young markedly reduced (by 80%) their subsequent risk of becoming peanut allergic. Further, those who are peanut allergic, researchers at Cambridge University have shown, can be “desensitized” by gradually increasing the amount of the nuts consumed. Taken together, that would seem a lot more persuasive than the sort of evidence justifying the Food Standards Agency’s bureaucratic nightmare.
I had been going to ignore it as yet another pointless rant but there are so many factual errors, whatever about misconceptions, that I really could not let it go by. So:
1. Sue Hattersley, the much respected head of the Foods Standards Agency Allergy division, retired over six months ago so I very much doubt that she has said anything about the matter at all, and she has certainly not said anything in an official capacity.
2. The Food Standards Agency are not responsible for the new allergen regulations; they have been imposed on all EU countries by the EU Commission/European Food Safety Authority in Brussels.
3. It may be ‘simple enough for anyone visiting a restaurant to inquire about the ingredients on a menu’. The point is not whether it is simple to enquire, but whether you are likely to be given accurate information. The answer to which, up till now, has been more than likely, no. Hence the need for the regulations requiring outlets to actually know whether any of the major allergens are in their foods and if so, which ones in which dishes!
4. Would that one could deduce that ‘over-zealous concerns about food allergy are almost certainly a major contributing factor to its increasing prevalence’ from recent LEAP peanut studies; how simple would that make things. Meanwhile, just ask any allergist….
5. No – researchers at Addenbrookes Hospital near Cambridge (not Cambridge University) have shown than it may be possible to desensitise allergic people by giving them gradually increasing doses of their allergen. But this work is at a very early stage and is certainly not yet being used in general clinical practice.
6. The final reference to the FSA’s bureaucratic nightmare refers to food fraud, not to food allergy. Yes, the cumin and paprika in question did include almond and peanut shells, which obviously poses an allergy threat for those allergic to almonds or peanuts, but the issue was food fraud and transparency – not allergy.
And for those who really want to be picky, the correct spelling for those who run restaurants is ‘restaurateur’ not ‘restauranteur’ –
‘The French word for a person who owns or runs a restaurant is restaurateur, with no n, and this is the spelling used most often in English, especially in edited writing.’ from The Grammarist – while ‘restauranteur’ does not even appear in the OED!