May 9, 2001
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203

Local Residents Join Assemblyman Ortiz at Food Allergy Awareness Week
Press Conference

(Albany, NY) Several Capital District families with children who suffer from severe, potentially life-threatening food allergies joined Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy at a press conference for Food Allergy Awareness Week (May 7-11) today at the Legislative Office Building in Albany. Participants included: a mother from Troy, Kris Weaver, who lost her daughter after a fatal allergic reaction; Mary Ann Colegrove, a Clifton Park mother of a food allergic child, who is also head of the local Food Allergy Awareness Network; and a Schenectady County mother, Lori Ira, President of the New York Nut Allergy Awareness Network, and her 10-year-old daughter, Katlyn Ira, who spoke about her experience with nut allergies, such as carrying life-saving medication at all times. The goal of this Week is to increase awareness of the dangers posed to those suffering from food allergies.

Deaths from food allergies are the most common of any allergy including insect stings and medication reactions. Children with both a food allergy and asthma are at even greater risk. According to the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and medical researchers, six to seven million Americans, two million of them children, have food allergies, including three million with an allergy to peanuts or tree nuts. There are approximately 2,000 hospitalizations and 200 deaths each year - all preventable.

Foods commonly associated with allergic responses include egg, milk, peanuts and other nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. The most common causes of anaphylaxis, or extreme allergic reaction, are peanuts, tree nuts, milk, and fish. Food allergic persons must avoid the food in all of its forms - even a very small amount may be fatal.

Katlyn Ira said, "My allergies are very scary. If I eat even a trace amount of a peanut or nut, I could die. If a label isn't correct and I eat a nut, I'll have to get my Epipen (epinephrine medication) quick and get right to a hospital!"

According to Assemblyman Ortiz, "It is important for the public, especially food businesses and school officials, to be aware of the serious nature of these food allergies. The stories told by the families, especially the children, should make everyone in the business community, health care and government motivated to improve efforts to help allergy sufferers avoid dangerous allergens. As Chair of the Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy I plan on convening a meeting with food manufacturers, restaurant organizations, school health officials, medical professionals and food allergy activists to discuss potential solutions to the problems faced by these families."

Activists involved with the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, including the families attending Wednesday's press conference are pushing for improved food labeling, and oversight by regulatory agencies, better public education about the problem and increased availability of epinephrine, a drug used to treat allergy-induced anaphylactic shock. The families and medical professionals spoke about their personal experiences dealing with these illnesses and their recommendations for changes in the food industry, medical care and government policy.

Lori Ira, President of the New York Nut Allergy Awareness Group, urged companies to do a better job of food production and labeling. "Food allergic consumers need to trust a company and be able to access information regarding manufacturing and labels. Finding phone numbers to companies who manufacture foods and getting in touch with someone who has accurate information is always a challenge."

Recent investigations of food manufacturers ordered by the FDA found that 25% failed to list common ingredients that could cause fatal allergic reactions. Only half of the companies bothered to check if the ingredient list was accurate. Allergenic ingredients often ended up in products by mistake because equipment wasn't cleaned between different products.

Ortiz voiced support for federal efforts to improve labeling but also called on businesses to think about the allergic children. "Food businesses are often very large and impersonal but if the CEOs could see the children here today and talk to the parents who have suffered through the loss of a child the word would go out that we have to provide better information, better food production and preparation methods, better training for food service workers, better oversight and safer foods. It's a matter of life and death."

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