Banning Mr. Peanut From America's Classrooms
By C. David Kelly
A growing number of schools and preschools across the United States are instituting policies to control or ban the consumption of peanuts – yes, peanuts – and peanut products at school. It is believed that 1 percent of American children are allergic to the goober, forcing schools to take drastic action. The peanut M&M, Reese's Pieces and the peanut butter cracker – staples in school lunches for years – appear to be on the verge of expulsion.
According to a recent Newsweek article, one school in New York has banned any form of peanut product from the premises. Another school has created peanut-free classrooms. A school in Minnesota now has set up separate tables for those children needing a peanut butter-and-jelly fix. Peanut-sniffing dogs patrolling school hallways can't be far behind.
An over-reaction to a problem that affects a minute portion of the population? According to the Food Allergy Network, up to 5 percent of America's children suffer from food allergies. Eight foods contribute to 90 percent of the cases, with peanuts, nuts, fish and shellfish creating the most severe reactions. While the seriousness of such food allergies shouldn't be discounted (as little as half a peanut can create a fatal reaction in severely allergic individuals), school districts should avoid extreme measures in dealing with the situation.
According to Anne Munoz-Furlong, founder of the non-profit Food Allergy Network, schools should focus their attention on educating students, parents and school officials about the facts of food allergies. Banning any product, according to Munoz-Furlong, is an unrealistic approach to the problem. It also stigmatizes allergic students, who are often taunted by their non-allergic classmates.
"Banishment doesn't work," said Munoz-Furlong, who founded the Network to help increase public awareness about food allergies. "Banning a product is sort of taking the approach that if you take the product out, there will be no problem. This isn't realistic." She added that banning the product could wrongly cast the peanut and peanut products as villains in the eyes of certain children. The Network, however, has no problem separating students eating peanut products from those with allergies in the cafeteria.
What is realistic is providing teachers, parents and students accurate information pertaining to the seriousness of food allergies. Parents should also assume the responsibility of helping their children understand the dangers. The Peanut Advisory Board, which helps fund the Network's educational programs, says schools are creating a false sense of security by banning and controlling the presence of peanut products.
"How do you protect the children when they aren't in school," said Mitch Head, executive director of the Peanut Advisory Board. "Helping the children, their families and the schools better understand food allergies and how to deal with them is the best approach."
C. David Kelly is assistant director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation.