Thursday, November 9, 2006
Apparent Upsurge in Allergic Reactions to Peanuts Generates Anxiety
By ROGER M. GRACE
There are various foods which, to the vast majority of people, can be enjoyed without ill-effects…but can cause havoc to the body of anyone with an allergy to them. Among these foods are milk, eggs, soy and wheat—as well as fish and shellfish, to which U.S. District Court Judge George Schiavelli of Los Angeles can personally attest. (Fortunately, his wife, Holli, is quite fond of him and does not slip cod liver oil into his oatmeal.) And, yes, the peanut, subject of this current batch of columns, is also a common allergen.
Peanuts have been consumed for centuries, and been a popular snack in the U.S. since the mid-19th Century, devoid of controversy. But they’re now in the news—and are being described by some as “dangerous.”
The Wall Street Journal reported last week:
“An estimated 1.5 million Americans, including some 600,000 children, experience allergic reactions to peanuts, ranging from hives to nausea to sometimes-fatal anaphylactic shock. With most of the annual 150 food-allergy deaths blamed on peanuts, many schools have created peanut-free zones or gone totally ‘peanut free.’
“The number of children with peanut allergies has skyrocketed, doubling from 1997 to 2002, according to a study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. And it’s a mystery why peanut allergies are causing more problems. One explanation is that physicians are more adept at detecting them. Another is that the modern environment may be, in a sense, too clean: If the human immune system were exposed to more allergens, a peanut might not send it into overdrive.”
The article tells of efforts to develop a drug to ward off or lessen allergic reactions to peanut and to develop a peanut lacking the proteins that trigger allergic reactions.
The development of any anti-allergy drug can only be viewed as a positive. Genetic diddling with the peanut, inevitably altering its flavor, does not strike me as a worthwhile pursuit.
Banning on-campus sales of peanuts or anything containing peanuts, as many school districts have done, does seem to be an unkind deprivation to the countless youngsters who are not adversely affected by the food…a food that is exceedingly nourishing, as well as a delight to palates.
The Rutland City School District in Vermont has come up with a policy, possibly proposed by a parent who is a lawyer, that permits use of peanuts in a dish only if the presence of that potentially dangerous substance is open and obvious. Writing in the Rutland Herald, staff writer Sarah Hinckley reported Oct. 27: “The district has adopted a no-hidden-nut policy, under which nothing can be cooked or baked with nuts unless the nuts are visible.”
However, outright bans are understandable in light of the potential of litigation. The San Diego Union-Tribune noted on June 25:
“In 2001, a 9-year-old boy from Spokane, Wash., died on a field trip after eating a peanut butter cookie provided by his school. The same year, a 16-year-old Massachusetts student died after eating a dish with walnuts in a home economics class. Their parents sued the school districts.”
San Diego did not adopt such a ban in light of competing interests. The article continued:
“Policy-makers have to balance the need to protect children with allergies with the rights of others to have peanuts and tree nuts in their diets.
“Peanut butter sandwiches are provided in San Diego’s middle and high schools because students experimenting with vegetarianism get their protein from them. There have been outcries at some schools where peanuts and related products were banned completely from school grounds.”
Peanuts, though healthful for most, are largely being replaced on airlines by carbohydrate-packed substances like pretzels, unhealthful for most of us, if not everyone.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported Oct. 31:
“Airline peanuts have generally become a thing of the past. Powder residue from dry-roasted peanuts becomes airborne when plane passengers open bags simultaneously. This can cause a reaction for someone with severe peanut allergies. Midwest Airlines, based in Milwaukee, adopted a peanut-free menu last year.”
The rhetoric has become fierce. A letter to the editor in the Minneapolis Star on Oct. 29 railed that when airplane “passengers leave behind an unfinished bag of peanuts or an almond candy bar, they leave behind a ticking time bomb,” explaining that these items could result in in-air fatalities to a persons with an allergy who had next come onboard.
Planters, the brand name (owned by Kraft) that’s readily associated with peanuts, now manufacturers cans of “Delux Mixed Nuts” sans goobers...but advises on labels:
“ALLERGY INFORMATION: MANUFACTURED ON EQUIPMENT THAT PROCESSES PEANUTS AND OTHER TREE NUTS.”
(Actually, peanuts are not nuts, but are legumes, but let’s not get picky.)
What next? Surgeon general warnings on packages of peanuts? A 50-cent-a-bag state tax on peanuts, to go to a fund for treatment of peanut victims and other unrelated purposes?
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company
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