The British food industry needs to be ready for an explosion in food allergies, Trace One warns. Following a series of Freedom of Information requests and research, it is clear that adverse reactions to food across Great Britain are growing at a concerning rate — with the number of hospital admissions for serious reactions growing by almost 75% in England in the last ten years.
In comparison, the population has grown by only 8% in this time, so this increase cannot simply be put down to there being more potential sufferers. This pattern is repeated in Scotland, where the number of patients consulting a GP or practice nurse for a food allergy increased by more than 20% between 2004 and 2013, versus a population increase of under 5%.
Transparency will become increasingly critical for the industry and consumers, both to know exactly and reliably what potential allergens products contain and to swiftly recall products in the event of supply chain issues that could put higher risk allergy sufferers in significant danger.
“The rise in demand for “free from” products started in the UK but is now a trend in all industrialized countries. It has often been dismissed as a fad, with lifestyle choices rather than genuine health reasons driving the majority of purchase decisions. However it’s clear from our research that we are facing a huge rise in both minor and major food allergies that can’t be explained away by factors such as population growth,” said Shaun Bossons, EVP for Global Business Development at Trace One.
“Our research found that hospital admissions in England owing to food reactions rose from 2758 in 2004 to 4744 in 2015. For anaphylactic shock specifically — the most severe of allergic reactions — it almost doubled. Transparency in the food supply industry will be a major step in limiting any further growth in the admissions rate. It’s a big, indeed life and death, responsibility for retailers,” he added.
Trace One made Freedom of Information requests to healthcare trusts and central bodies across England, Scotland and Wales in 2015. The company also researched centrally released data from the NHS. Combining the results gave the full picture of how quickly reported allergic reactions to food are increasing, leading to the discovery that the rate of hospital admissions in England owing to food allergies has increased by almost 60% in the past ten years. If this trend continues, there will be almost four times as many admissions in 2040 than there were in 2015.
“Blame for this increase in allergies could fall on a number of things, with processed foods often found under the spotlight,” continued Bossons. “Not only has consumption risen during the years, but the foods themselves have become ever more complex — meaning there is greater potential for unlabelled allergens to be introduced, either by accident or as a result of food fraud. The fault is equally likely to lie elsewhere; no research team investigating potential reasons for rising food allergies has identified a specific culprit.”
“However, what really needs to concern the food industry is consumer trust. If consumers believe a processed food product is responsible for their allergies, they’ll be quick to abandon it. Owners of consumer brands need the wider food industry to adopt the use of new information tools to achieve full supply chain transparency, in order to ensure the integrity of their brands and also to both protect and reassure their consumers,” he concluded.