By Kathy Franklin
The discovery that a child has a severe food allergy is terrifying. Unless you have friends or family with one of these allergies, chances are you have given them little consideration. Even with all the publicity they have received in recent years, the realization that your child is in danger of a sudden, life-threatening reaction from just one tiny bite of the wrong food can leave you feeling profoundly alone. But you are not alone. Once you recover from the shock, no pun intended, you will find friends and allies in the form of FAAN, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, now entering its third decade.
FAAN has made tremendous strides in public awareness and education. Through their publications and the website, www.foodallergy.org, they provide invaluable information and resources to patients, schools, camps, and restaurants. I can’t imagine where we would be without their advocacy, a clear record of literally life-saving legislative achievement at the national, state, and local levels, including food labeling laws, school food-allergy guidelines, and, most recently, requiring epinephrine in ambulances.
FAAN works closely with food manufacturers, large and small, to educate them about the needs of food-allergic consumers, and to support them in their ongoing efforts to avoid allergen cross-contamination in food production. One very helpful service is the “Special Allergy Alert Notice” email program, providing information about mislabeled product ingredients. Sign up for these free email alerts at www.foodallergy.org/section/alerts.
Under the new leadership of Julia Bradsher, CEO, and Eleanor Garrow-Majka, Vice President of Education and Outreach, the organization is working on many exciting new projects.
Among the agenda items, advocacy will intensify, with particular attention to improving “may contain” labeling, and focusing on educational programs with various professions, including airline staff, culinary workers, and the tourism industry. FAAN will work together with FAI–the Food Allergy Initiative–on several projects, the most immediate being to secure increased funding for food allergy research from the National Institutes of Health. This renewed spirit of cooperation between the two most respected food allergy organizations is a welcome development, and we all look forward to even greater future accomplishments from both FAAN and FAI.
Other FAAN projects in the planning stages: day camps for food allergic children, beginning in 2011; overnight camps for teens in 2012; a food allergy education program for grandparents (Dr. Ehrlich, who has had his own lapses as a grandfather of an allergic toddler, is helping out); an outreach and education program focused on adults with food allergies; and improved outreach to under-served, under-represented minority and lower-income families. At a recent meeting with the New York-area allergy parents, Julia noted that while allergic disease occurs across all ethnic, racial, geographical, and socioeconomic groups, FAAN’s membership is disproportionately white, urban/suburban, and middle- and upper-income; this is a failure that must be redressed, and FAAN intends to redouble its efforts to provide education, access, and advocacy to all.
For more information on this wonderful resource, visit FAAN at www.foodallergy.org, or call 800-929-4040.