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Peanut allergy: What the public thinks widely misses the mark

"We don’t want our crop to be unfairly singled out for bans, when peanuts are just one of a number of common allergens."—Ryan Lepicier, National Peanut Board

“Everywhere I go, the No. 1 thing people want to talk to me about is peanut allergy,” says Ryan Lepicier, vice president of marketing and communications for the National Peanut Board.

“They aren’t necessary negative about it — they’re curious,” he told members of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association at their annual meeting. “They want to understand it and to determine whether it’s fair to keep peanut butter and peanuts out of schools.”

The general public’s perception of the extent of peanut allergy is way off the mark in terms of reality, he says. “They think 24 percent of the population is affected — that’s 40 times greater than the actual number.

“It’s a challenge for schools, for families; it’s an economic challenge, a consumer perception challenge, and we’ve really stepped up our efforts in last two years to address the issue in new ways.”

Despite what most people think, Lepicier says, “There is no scientific research to support that you can have an allergic reaction just being in a room with peanuts. Children get sick and sometimes die from anaphylactic reactions to dairy products, yet schools don’t eliminate milk from their lunch programs. We don’t want our crop to be unfairly singled out for bans, when peanuts are just one of a number of common allergens — and not even the most common. We want our children to be protected, but we also want schools to have the tools and resources they need to safely and comfortably serve nutritious, healthful peanut butter.”

Most of the informational work done by the National Peanut Board over the last two years, Lepicier says, has been to reach influencers such as physicians, dietitians, school food service directors, school boards and superintendents, and nurses, and through professional publications and trade shows.

“We’ve recently launched a multi-pronged program to address the public directly, through various media, as to what’s science-based information, not hype. We also reach out to media to set the record straight when they disseminate inaccurate information about peanut allergies.

“We’ve also convened a Food Allergy Education Advisory Council, with a wide range of professions represented, to help us tweak our efforts to better inform the public on this issue. It’s not something we’re going to solve overnight, but we’re steadily chipping away at countering misinformation about this allergy.

A return on investment study, Lepicier says, showed for every $1 invested in National Peanut Board programs, producers received $8.87 in value. “Without that investment, consumption of peanuts would’ve been 15 percent less, and peanut yields would’ve been 11 percent less.” And since 2000, he says, the board has invested $20 million in production research on more than 900 projects.

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