By Dr. Larry Chiaramonte
“The latest research regarding children’s food allergies came out earlier this week, and it’s a jaw-dropper: Food-related allergies are now twice as common as was once thought, with 1 in 12 American children possibly affected.
“Of those with allergies, 40 percent have had reactions severe enough to land them in the hospital, or worse. Prescriptions for the life-saving EpiPen increased 36 percent from 2004 to 2007 alone; that number is likely to be higher in light of the latest study.”
She cites Robyn O’Brien, author and founder of allergykids.com, and her new book, The Unhealthy Truth. In “her [O’Brien’s] quest to find out why, she began to uncover some mind-blowing statistics: Since the introduction of genetically engineered foods in the mid 1990s, there has been a 265 percent increase in the rates of hospitalizations due to food-related allergic reactions. That same CDC study from 2007 found that food allergies overall had increased 18 percent. But those data were based on a figure of 3 million children; the newer research published in Pediatrics earlier this week puts that number closer to 6 million.”
I must admit, the new figures are much higher than I am accustomed to. Regardless, I also think that genetically modified food is something to worry about. In our book, I said:
One of the more intriguing factoids in our field is that in all of China, which has four times the U.S. population, the number of people with peanut allergies is the same. Can it be something in the peanuts? One theory is that American companies are modifying the peanuts genetically. There is no question that genetic modifcation constitutes a threat. A Japanese-American consortium had genetically produced lysergic acid, the same compound in warm milk and turkey that makes us sleepy, as a “natural sleeping pill.” Some trace by-product of the pill managed to kill several hundred Americans before the Japanese withdrew it and hid the production records from the FDA. This precedent proves there’s ample reason to worry, but how worried is another matter. One trouble is that the Food and Drug Administration is better at regulating drugs than food. As long as a new food is substantially the same as an old one, it doesn’t need exhaustive study for use. But altering the chemistry of food can produce a compound as powerful as a new drug. For now, there’s no 100 percent certainty, so read labels carefully, and cook with care.
By the way, there have been efforts to genetically modify peanuts without the offending proteins, but by all accounts, the result tastes awful.