When you eat out or shop at the grocery store, you probably don’t worry about whether or not the food you’re buying will give you hives or worse. You might only second guess the nutrition of your order or check a label for carbs and calories, unless you’re one of roughly 9 million adults who deal with food allergies – like me – or have a child with food allergies.
Food allergen labels and statements like “processed in the same facility as tree nuts” help me stay clear of allergic reactions ranging from mild discomfort to vomiting, stomach cramps, hives, wheezing, weak pulse, dizziness, and swelling of the tongue and throat, which can lead to closing of the throat and inability to breathe. Yikes!
Over the past few years, food allergies have become more well known in our society. Schools are banning peanut butter and homemade treats from their classrooms, while individuals who have celiac disease (gluten intolerance) or are lactose intolerant have enjoyed a growth of allergen-free choices at the supermarket.
Farmers, along with the food industry, see a need to produce safe products without ingredients that will make their consumers sick. Even though people know about food allergies, many are still confused about what causes the reaction.
We consume thousands of different proteins through the foods we eat. Out of those thousands, there are only a few proteins in our diets that cause allergies. Over 90 percent of the food allergies come from eight foods: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.
Which brings us to a major misconception concerning GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and allergies.
Many consumers are concerned that GMO food is causing an increase in food allergies, which means they probably aren’t aware that they won’t be allergic to a GMO product if they aren’t allergic to its non-GMO counterpart. For example, if you are allergic to non-GMO soy, you will be allergic to GMO soy because their chemical makeup is the same. Likewise, if you’re not allergic to non-GMO soy, you won’t be allergic to GMO soy – for the same reason.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration focuses on allergy issues and requires companies to analyze the proteins they use in the biotechnology process to determine that the proteins are not allergenic. The process to create a genetically modified food is well regulated and takes years to be approved. Rest assured, the GMO product won’t contain an added protein that causes an allergic reaction!
Additionally, there’s new research showing that genetically modified foods have the potential to make food safer! Theoretically, if you removed the proteins that cause allergies from a plant, there wouldn’t be an allergic reaction. Right now, scientists are trying to create a peanut with modified genes that are no longer allergenic. There’s a possibility that someday everyone may be able to enjoy a tasty peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Until then, sunflower butter is a good alternative.
While debunking misconceptions about food allergies, it’s important to know that the food industry and farmers are doing their part to provide a safe, reliable food source for everyone including those with food allergies. With the regulations and testing done on new foods, you can be ensured that your food is safe for you.
By Megan Striegel. Megan is Iowa Farm Bureau's online marketing intern.