Uncle Tobys

Nestle's "lunchbox friendly" bars. Photo: Supplied

Nestle and an anti-allergy charity have been accused of encouraging a new range of ''lunchbox friendly'' muesli bars to be allowed in playgrounds, even though they could be dangerous for people with nut allergies.

Fairfax Media can reveal that Nestle (which owns Uncle Tobys) and charity A&AA have worked together to develop the new products, and are encouraging schools and kindergartens to allow them into playgrounds. But both admit they should not be eaten by anyone with a nut allergy.

A&AA, which receives funding from Nestle, is also asking schools to reconsider bans they may have on nuts in the schoolyard.

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

''I'm confused, and I work in the industry,'' Sydney paediatric allergist Elizabeth Pickford said. ''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 directly to the ''student welfare officer'' at thousands of schools and kindergartens across the country. 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 several years, most recently a $5000 grant for its Food Allergy Awareness week.

The letter then directs schools to the A&AA website where, as a matter of policy, the charity is opposed to banning nuts from schools. ''It is impossible to think we can remove all traces of allergins 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,'' Dr Pickford said. ''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.''

In recent years Nestle has lost market share to several 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. Other sponsors include supermarket chain Coles and Nuts For Life, a body representing the Australian tree nut industry.

Just two days before Christmas, A&AA informed its members of the tie-up with Uncle Tobys. Several angry 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,'' spokeswoman Margaret Stuart said.

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.