Food allergy programme a success, says FSA

By Gavin Kermack

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food allergy, Allergy, Uk food standards agency

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) says that its Food Allergy and Intolerance Research Programme has directly influenced FSA policy concerning allergies, which has in turn informed manufacturers.

The programme, known as T07, has made “a significant contribution to the understanding of food allergy on both a national and international scale”​, according to the report on the review, which was released yesterday. Moreover, “the results have often been translated into sound consumer advice”​.

T07 is a programme funded by the FSA to conduct scientific research projects into food allergy and food intolerance in order to inform the agency’s policies and advice. Like all FSA-commissioned programmes, it is subject to five-yearly reviews to evaluate its success and productivity.

The review reported that T07 had made “significant progress”​ over the last five years with regard to the identification of risk factors (such as genetic, environmental and dietary) associated with the development of food allergies This is crucial for the food industry given the importance of keeping abreast of the latest findings and legislation concerning ingredients that are potential allergens and their labeling, in the interests of consumer protection.

Estimates suggest that 1-2 per cent of adults and 5-8 per cent of children in the UK have a food allergy. Moreover, it is thought that at least ten people die each year in the UK from an allergic reaction to food, although the actual figure is likely to be higher.

In particular, the programme’s research has established that the skin is potentially “a very significant route of sensitisation to food proteins”​, especially from peanuts.

Successes

The review panel acknowledged that there remains much research to be done in this area but that the results would help to evaluate the importance of early dietary exposure and could play in important role in the development of parental advice to minimise the risk of allergy development amongst children.

The results of research into whether certain food additives can affect children’s behaviour had directly influenced FSA policy, with new advice being issued to parents regarding their children’s eating habits. The scientific evidence was also considered at a wider European level.

The programme’s research into kiwi fruit allergy identified it as growing and potentially significant food allergy in the UK, especially amongst children. This information has led to updated advice from the FSA and influenced the advice given to schools by the Department of Health when the school fruit and vegetables scheme was introduced in 2004.

It was suggested that it may be beneficial for the UK to follow the lead of several EU countries and develop a ‘severe reactions register’ to record allergic reactions and help to identify risk factors; however, it was acknowledged that this would be a large-scale project which may even be outside the FSA’s remit.

T07’s work to examine the prevalence and epidemiology of food allergy had provided the FSA with “robust data” ​on this subject. It has allowed the FSA to establish the first UK estimates for the prevalence of food allergies involving a wide range of allergens in several age groups of children and teenagers. However, the panel recognised that this research did little to establish data concerning allergy prevalence amongst UK adults.

More work needed

T07 was considered to have performed less well in its aim of developing methods for detecting allergens in food, with only one project in this area having been commissioned. It was suggested that further research be carried out, along with the development of reference materials for the main allergenic foods.

The panel also advised that improvements need to be made to the protein methods of allergen detection, as well as ensuring they are independently validated. It was recognised that this work would not be confined to T07 or the FSA, but that it would be part of a wider remit concerning other UK government bodies, industry, and other EU countries.

The Food Allergy and Intolerance Research Programme was set up in 1994, originally focusing on nut allergies and the later stages of sensitisation when clinical allergy has developed.

It is reviewed every five years by a panel of independent scientific experts to evaluate the projects it has been working on, establish whether these projects have addressed the aims and objectives of the programme, and to consider the future direction of the programme.

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