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Public Statements

Food Allergies

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mrs. LOWEY. Mr. Speaker, approximately 15 million Americans have a food allergy, a life-altering and potentially life-threatening disease that affects one in every 13 children in the U.S. That's roughly two in every classroom. Food allergies among children increased by 50 percent from 1997-99 to 2009-11, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. The numbers are growing and becoming more serious--but there is no clear answer as to why.

The increased impact of food allergies is being felt in schools, playgrounds, restaurants, workplaces and emergency care facilities, and constitutes a growing public health issue with substantial financial, educational and medical implications. That is why I am speaking today to alert you that this week is Food Allergy Awareness Week.

Unfortunately, resources dedicated to identifying the source and a cure for food allergies has not kept pace with the increasing incidence and its impact. Total governmental support, including the National Institutes of Health, amounts to less than $30 million in food allergy research. Private sources, like Food Allergy Research and Education--a patient-centered advocacy and support organization--provide limited additional research support. That is less than $2.00 in annual research funding for every American living with a potentially life-threatening food allergy.

Mr. Speaker, beyond government research support, the risk to individuals, especially children, of severe, life-threatening reactions also needs to be addressed and prepared for. While many children with known food allergies are permitted to bring their epinephrine auto-injectors to school, studies have shown that 25 percent of epinephrine administrations in schools involve individuals without a previously known allergy. Consequently, the availability of stock epinephrine--undesignated devices that are not prescribed to a particular student and that may be used in anaphylactic emergencies--is critical. Many students who will need epinephrine may have no known history of allergy to food, bee stings, latex and other allergens, and therefore would not have a prescription of their own.

As this health crisis continues to grow, other responses are becoming increasingly necessary. In addition to school personnel, restaurants and their staff need to be made aware of the risks, know how to properly prepare food to avoid allergic reactions, and how to respond in an emergency. Emergency responders need to be properly authorized, trained and equipped to recognize and administer treatment. And ultimately, epinephrine needs to become a standard of emergency first aid in public spaces, nationwide.

Mr. Speaker, 19 states have now passed legislation that would allow schools to stock emergency epinephrine auto-injectors for those instances. Congress has had before it legislation that would provide an incentive for states to require the stocking of this emergency medication for the children and staff who may be faced with this life-threatening situation, and I hope that that legislation will be revisited during this session.

It is critical for the public to appreciate the extent of the problem and, importantly, the severity of the disease. It is a health crisis that affects every race, age, income group and geographic area, and is growing dramatically. And what the public increasingly needs to understand is that this is not simply an inconvenient condition. As the recent tragic deaths of children in Utah, New Jersey and Massachusetts show, it is frequently a life-threatening disease. We hope that public understanding and appreciation is enhanced during Food Allergy Awareness Week.

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