Recently, my office was made aware of the efforts of two young children from St Meriodoc’s Infant’s School who helped and supported their mother when their youngest sister had a severe allergic reaction to some medication. Seren and Reece Pope had recently covered emergency awareness and how to help during a home learning session that the school had run so we're prepared and knew how to act, helping to keep the rest of the family calm while they waited for an ambulance to arrive.
In recent years there has been a growing number of cases involving food allergies. There are thought to be around 1.5 million people in the country who are affected by such conditions. It is a complex area and no one knows exactly why such allergies develop or why they are becoming more prevalent. Such reactions are caused when the immune system becomes hypersensitive to a particular food or medication or, in some cases, a bee sting. One theory is that the condition is genetic and that populations have evolved over tens of thousands of years to recognise natural substances in their local environment but because foods and are now moved around the world, the immune system is more likely to detect something it doesn’t recognise and therefore reacts to. Other theories are that modern living may lead to a situation where the immune system becomes more sensitive in some cases. More work is needed to understand the drivers of such allergies.
Last year I met the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who was just fifteen when she tragically lost her life on a flight from Heathrow after she had eaten a baguette that had sesame seeds on it and to which she had a severe allergic reaction. The case prompted calls for a review of the law regarding the labelling of foods and Natasha’s parents have been leading work to improve understanding of allergies. At the moment pre-packaged foods are required to label all of the ingredients in the pack but there has always been an exemption for sandwiches and foods prepared on-site. There has been a growth in chains like Pret A Manger who increasingly prepare all of their sandwiches on site which means the risk has become greater because more products are on the market that is not required to have every ingredient fully labelled. Food chains have gone a long way to try to address the problem with changes to their own systems but the government is also working on some changes to legislation to require labelling of ingredients in more scenarios to help those with allergies avoid the foods that cause a reaction.
We will shortly be issuing a consultation on some changes to the law. It will not solve the problem that many people have to live with but it will be a step in the right direction and help those suffering these conditions to avoid the products which prompt and allergic reaction.