Calls to improve food allergy label laws
Australia’s food allergen labelling must be improved so parents don’t have to play “lucky dip” with their child’s life, a parliamentary inquiry has been told.
Federal parliament’s health committee is examining the rise in allergies in Australia, the impacts of anaphylaxis and access to services for allergy sufferers. A public hearing in Melbourne on Monday began with a panel including mothers sharing their experiences of raising children with severe allergies.
Suzanne Parry’s seven-year-old son has a cashew and pistachio allergy, which resulted in him collapsing, turning blue and his breath stopping when he was two. Her son is anaphylactic to those two nuts and she’s trying to give him other ones, but Australian labels simply refer to “tree nuts”.
“I don’t understand how or why this classification has been allowed in the first place,” she said. “It’s a lucky dip and I don’t want to play a lucky dip with my son’s life.”
Simone Albert agreed, saying her family had decided to give her son oral immunotherapy overseas after being tired of playing “Russian roulette with labelling”.
Her 13-year-old son hasn’t had an anaphylactic reaction in the past two years since undergoing oral immunotherapy, whereas he was averaging one a year before then. Oral immunotherapy is not available in Australia.
Centre for Food Allergy Research chief investigator Kirsten Perrett is cautious of the method, saying it desensitises people rather than treating them.
She flagged studies on the “experimental” treatment – where people are gradually given higher doses of foods to which they’re allergic – that have questioned whether it’s safe.
Dr Perrett urged the committee to consider establishing a national centre of food allergy research, saying it could help Australia become a world-leader in the field.
The number of Australians admitted to hospital because of allergies has increased five-fold in the past two decades. There are many studies under way looking at why allergy rates have increased so much.
The studies mainly involve environmental factors, such as whether diet, dry skin and Vitamin D deficiencies are related to allergies. About 10 per cent of Australian infants have a food allergy, which becomes about 2.5 per cent of adults, the committee was told.
PhD candidate Victoria Soriano is in the midst of research to see if updated infant feeding guidelines have made a dent to the number of children with allergies.
The feeding guidelines recommend introducing egg into a baby’s diet by about six months, and peanuts before 12 months. The study is based in Melbourne and results are expected next year.