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Doctors perplexed by muesli bar push from Nestle, charity

Nestle and the charity Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia are under fire for encouraging schools to allow a new range of Uncle Tobys ''lunchbox friendly'' muesli bars into playgrounds, even though they could be dangerous for people with nut allergies.

Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA) - which receives funding from Nestle, owner of Uncle Tobys - has worked with the world's biggest food company to develop the range of muesli bars.

Mums are going to think this is a safe product when they see it. 

The charity and Nestle admit they should not be eaten by anyone with a nut allergy. A&AA is also asking schools to reconsider bans on nuts in the schoolyard.

Illustration: Matt Golding

Illustration: Matt Golding

In a case that mirrors the decision by the Heart Foundation to endorse some McDonald's food with a ''tick'', a number of doctors and parents say the tie-up between Nestle and A&AA is confounding for schools and consumers.

''I'm confused, and I work in the industry,'' said Sydney-based paediatric allergist Elizabeth Pickford. ''I think the 'lunchbox friendly' labelling is really deceptive. Mums are going to think this is a safe product when they see it.''

Last month Nestle and A&AA wrote to student welfare officers at thousands of schools and kindergartens nationwide.

The letter has the logos of both A&AA and Nestle and is co-signed by A&AA president Maria Said and Nestle nutrition manager Susan Kevork.

''To reduce the risk to children with life-threatening nut allergies, it is common for schools to put a restriction on nuts as part of their allergy management policy,'' the letter states. ''While allergen restrictions do reduce risk, this strategy must be part of an overall management plan as risk can never be totally removed. To think so would increase risk to those with a food allergy.''

Ms Said admitted the charity had received funding from Nestle over a number of years, most recently a $5000 grant for its Food Allergy Awareness week.

''This is not a money-making exercise for our organisation, this is about getting clarity of information out to consumers when there is so much misinformation out there,'' she said.

The letter then directs schools to the A&AA website, where the charity opposes banning nuts from schools.

''It is impossible to think we can remove all traces of allergens from within a school environment,'' Ms Said told Fairfax Media. ''That would mean we ask kids to bring water bottles to schools, and not much more.''

Many doctors disagree.

''It's a very simple request for parents not to bring nuts to school,'' said Dr Pickford. ''Honestly, little kids need to be protected, often from themselves. To a little kid, someone else's lunchbox can seem irresistible. Often kids with an allergy will eat something from someone else's lunchbox and then not tell anyone, in case they get in trouble.''

Victorian-based allergy specialist Brett Knight said severe reactions to products with even the slightest trace of nuts were possible.

''If you don't have a nut-free policy at schools, then you need greater management and oversight,'' said Dr Knight. ''That is very hard. That's why the simplest solution, especially for many younger children, is for schools to have a no-nut policy.''

In recent years Nestle has lost market share to a number of health companies that make completely nut-free products, as schools adopt strict no-nut policies.

The A&AA letter to schools does not disclose that the charity receives funding from Nestle.

Just two days before Christmas, A&AA informed its members of the tie-up with Uncle Tobys. A number of parents have since posted complaints on its website.

''Why would A&AA encourage kids to take nut products into school at all when there are plenty of nut-free snacks available?'' wrote Geelong mum Nicole Krasic.

''I'm all for education about allergies, but the [announcement] is simply Uncle Tobys marketing a product that 'appears nut free' and a way to ensure they can still sell products to kids. I'm disappointed that A&AA would support such an idea.''

Leanne San wrote: ''I don't get it … it can't be eaten if you have a nut allergy, so what's the benefit? Apart from a new marketing tactic?''

Nestle defended the new Uncle Tobys product.

''We've been very clear that this product range will not be suitable for nut allergy sufferers,'' said spokeswoman Margaret Stuart.

Ms Stuart said Nestle was a ''silver supporter'' of A&AA, and the charity had also been engaged to provide ''additional consulting support''. The company would not put a dollar value on that support.

58 comments

  • Nestle- pushing infant formula to 3rd world mothers with little clean water and babies dying to pushing nut products to schools. What's next? I'm disappointed that A&AA has any association with this company. A&AA, all the hard work you have done over the years to become a respectable and trusted org has just been undone. As a parent with an anaphylactic child you have let us down. Sounds like some mates deals are being done here.

    Commenter
    Tim
    Date and time
    January 16, 2014, 7:11AM
    • Spot on Tim, I was just going to say the same thing. Nestle is a bad corporate Model and the consumer should let them know by not buying their products. When they bleed at the bottom line they might wisen-up.

      Commenter
      Mark
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 8:03AM
    • @ Tim, so you are seriously suggesting that the potential death of a couple of kiddies should get in the way of up to $4M in profit and a likely 2 cent increase in Nestlé's share price? By the sound of it you are also naïve enough to suggest that either state or federal government should have stepped in here or at least make a comment on the subject? You and the 'nanny state' brigade need to get real, it's not Liberal, National, Labor, Green or even Clive Palmer (but he's getting close) who run Australia, its money mate, pure and simple.

      Commenter
      TT1959
      Location
      Melnourne
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 8:44AM
  • All young children, and particularly allergy sufferers, should be taught not to take or accept any food from other kids. To merely leave it as a ban on obvious but products might lull some kids into thinking it's ok to pinch someone else's snacks, which may contain sufficient traces if an allergen.

    Commenter
    Lex
    Date and time
    January 16, 2014, 7:29AM
    • Lex...my child is 99.9% allergic to peanuts and all tree nuts....children at my child's school are taught not to share their food for this reason and have a NUT FREE Policy... with my son's case, even if he doesn't injest the food, if someone who ate let's say a peanut butter sandwich or a meusli bar with nuts in them and touched my son, he will have an anaphylactic attack....

      Commenter
      MummyMai
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 9:15AM
    • Do I honestly believe that parents aren't teaching their children this though? It's the first thing the kids are taught , but we all know how young children can be pressured into eating something by their friends, lets be real we teach our children not to sample and drink but the peer pressure becomes to much sometimes :/ especially when the child is 4/5 years old :/

      Commenter
      Shenmon
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 9:22AM
  • The problem with a ban on nut products in schools is the (perhaps not so) subtle message to those afflicted with such allergies that the world will look after them.

    I would have thought that they should be taught to own the problem as early as possible.

    Commenter
    Ogden's Nut Gone Flake
    Location
    behind the bike sheds
    Date and time
    January 16, 2014, 7:35AM
    • Seriously?! I suppose you think young children should cross the road by themselves or dose themselves with panadol when unwell?!

      The reality is that primary school aged children can hardly manage to bring all of their belongings home or remember there is a note from their teacher in their school bag. Do you really thing a child has the cognitive ability to determine which foods are safe to eat if they have anaphylaxis? Most adults couldn't do this without reading the packaging of food products.

      Nestlé's actions are outrageous and dangerous. I see several lawsuits on their horizon if they continue with such a negligent strategy.

      Commenter
      Peaches
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 9:09AM
    • Are u serious? Do u not think that all allergy sufferers aren't taught from the beginning not to take other people's food? We are talking about very young children at school 4/5 years of age, who with a little bit of peer pressure from their friends to have some of their food wouldn't be that difficult at that age

      There's also the problem that when a young child is eating their peanut butter sandwich doesn't wash their hands/face, after eating then goes and touches all stuff that the allergy sufferer will also touch then they wipe their mouth/ bite their nails etc which can easily happen then their life is at risk just because some parents don't want to find something different to bring for lunch for their kids is bloody ridiculous

      What about when a child is eating this nut muesli bar and is talking to the allergy sufferer and accidentally spits when talking and it goes straight into the child's mouth/ face (let's be real I'm sure this has happened to most of us)

      So please don't sit here and say allergy sufferers think the world owes them something trust me they don't they just want to be schooled in a safe environment without having to worry if that other child they have to hold hands with in line ate a peanut butter sandwich or not?

      Commenter
      Shenmon
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 9:15AM
    • Exactly right. Most kids learn pretty quickly, even at an early age!

      Commenter
      Mads
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 9:23AM

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