Making progress in raising awareness
Government proposals on policies and regulations, relevant to those living with allergies, have been coming thick and fast of late. In the last few weeks alone, our Allergy Advisor has made submissions on Allergy NZ’s behalf to Medsafe, the Ministry of Health, and NZ Food Safety.
Medsafe sought our views on proposed warning statements on medication labels for substances, including food, that may cause an allergic reaction. Currently, medicines and related products are required to have a data sheet (which can be found in packaging or on Medsafe’s website) which may state they should not be used (i.e. are ‘contraindicated’) by people with a particular food allergy. However, unlike manufactured food products, medicines and therapeutic products are not required to list all the ingredients, including food allergens, on the label, let alone provide warning statements.
This was an issue which affected several children with cow’s milk allergy in 2017. They had reactions after being treated with dental varnish. The main ingredient was ‘CPP’ – casein-phospho-peptide – which is made from cow’s milk. Although milk allergy was listed on the product data sheet as a contraindication for use in people with cow’s milk allergy, there was no warning statement on the product label itself to alert either the dental practitioner or the family.
Food allergens such as milk (dairy), wheat (gluten), soy and peanut are increasingly being used in medicines as excipients or fillers (non-active ingredients), and in some therapeutic products as the active ingredient.
Allergy NZ’s submission applauded the move to require warning statements on medicines, including prescription items, from September 2020. The main recommendation made to Medsafe was that food allergen labelling should be consistent with those required on food products (as per the FSANZ Food Code), otherwise the warning statements could be confusing for consumers.
Our second submission was in response to a request for feedback on the draft ‘Maternal (Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women), Infant and Toddler Dietary Statements’. These are currently being revised on behalf of the Ministry of Health. Our recommendations were made in line with the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy’s (ASCIA) recommendations on prevention of allergy:
Most recently, Allergy NZ provided feedback to NZ Food Safety (part of the Ministry of Primary Industries) on their draft ‘Strategy for NZ Food Safety’. Their consultation document noted that one of the drivers for the strategy was the ‘increased awareness of allergies’.
Allergy New Zealand made several recommendations. One was the need for New Zealand research into prevalence and patterns of food allergy as well as potential effects of lifestyle changes and climate change (currently most of our knowledge is based on overseas research).
Making the food regulatory system more accessible to consumers was another, including providing consumers with information and education on how the system works. Utilising social media to inform consumers of food recalls was another recommendation.Other recommendations were for education and support on food allergen management for food services and consideration to be given to mandatory reporting of food-triggered allergic reactions related to undeclared allergens in food for sale.