The XX Factor

The Almighty Food Allergy Lobby

Questioning the seriousness of food allergies is the definition of a thankless task. When I argued that it’s possible to overeact to the dangers of nut allergies a couple of years ago, I got not just hate mail, but the kind of hate mail that trickles on for months and includes people you know, who tell you that they now think enormously less of you. And so I’ve pretty much stopped brattily griping about peanut-free classrooms and camps, especially after Sydney Spiesel, Slate’ s medical columnist, pointed out that about 100 people in the United States who are extremely allergic to peanuts die annually from accidental exposure. When risks are small but deadly, we’re often irrational about them, and overpay for prevention. But it’s harder to protest about how one’s own happily allergy-free children are being asked to give up their PB&J.

Still, this piece in Slate by Meredith Broussard, about the conflicts of interest in the work of the non-profit Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, got me feeling manipulated again. Broussard says that FAAN has enormous influence in the food allergy arena, and that it’s spreading its money around so as to fund studies that hype the danger of seafood allergies and get TV stations to air infomercials without labeling them that way, among other things. Broussard has taken on the allergy lobby before, and gotten slammed for it. So I’ll leave her to defend herself. But I do indeed wonder, as she prods us to, who will get the millions of dollars in allergy education funding that she says is in this proposed piece of federal legislation .

Photograph by Getty Images.