Photo: In the US, some children with allergies are given small amounts of peanut powder. AP Photo/Gerry Broome
How do Israelis give babies peanut products—and escape allergies? By
Bamba looks a lot like Cheez Doodles but tastes like peanut butter. It boasts a 25% share of Israel’s snack market, making it the most widely sold snack in the country, according to Bamba manufacturer Osem. Not only is Bamba popular, but it is such an icon of Israeli childhood that the Olympic Committee of Israel proposed using the brand’s mascot, a diaper-clad cartoon figure known as the Bamba Baby, as the country’s mascot in the London Olympics (though that idea was ultimately shot down as too commercial).
Meanwhile, in the US and Europe, schools are banning peanuts and peanut products from classrooms, lunchrooms, and bake sales. Parents go to great lengths to keep peanuts far, far away from their babies, often waiting till age 2 to introduce the product. In fact, allergy anxiety is so strong that far more people think they have food allergies than have actually been diagnosed with them.
This is at odds with the Israeli approach—and lots of places around the world that feed children peanut products, such as the peanut soup of West Africa and the porridge of rice, peanut butter and sugar common to Central Africa.
There are reasons for the extreme reactions peanuts can engender, of course, like the tripling of nut allergies among children in the United States between 1997 and 2008, at least based on self-reported assessments (more definitive conclusions are harder to come by), and the fact that a particularly severe allergy can potentially be fatal if not treated immediately. But given that the national hysteria over nut allergies, which a Harvard professor of medical sociology has said looks a lot like mass psychogenic illness, shows little indication of subsiding, is there any reason to think there might be room on the supermarket shelf, or the Western psyche, for a peanut product fed to children from as young as five or six months of age?
In a word, yes.
A study published in last month’s issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that a majority of subjects with documented peanut allergies who were given small amounts of peanut powder every day over 44 weeks were desensitized to some degree compared with those who received a placebo, even though peanut allergies had previously been considered untreatable.
While many Western doctors had long recommended waiting between one and three years before feeding peanut products to babies, the National Institutes of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics more recently determined that there is no reason to avoid feeding babies any possibly allergenic food like nut products or eggs beyond four to six months. This holds true even if the infants are at risk of developing an allergy because of their family history, as long as the babies don’t have a documented food allergy of their own. Britain adopted a similar position in 2009.
“There is no known benefit to avoiding potentially allergenic foods,” an expert panel sponsored by the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases stated in guidelines released in 2010. The guidelines also say there is no recommendation for pregnant or breastfeeding women to stay away from potential food allergens due to fears that, say, the peanut butter candies they crave might increase their babies’ likelihood of developing an allergy.
The theory behind delaying the introduction of potential allergens is that being exposed early could mean becoming allergic early. But if the opposite is actually the case, then parents and doctors seeking to be on the safe side by limiting the intake of certain foods may actually be part of the problem.
“There has never been anything [in Israel] prohibiting parents from giving peanut snacks from a particular age,” Dr. Yael Levy, the deputy director of the Kipper Institute of Immunology at Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, told me. “The advantage of this snack is that you can even put it into the mouths of babies who don’t have teeth, because it really melts,” she added. “The practice is to give it the first year, from six or seven months old, and there’s no danger in that.”
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology put that in more scientific terms, finding peanut allergy to be 10 times more prevalent among British children than Israeli ones. Although the study did not demonstrate causation, it also found that 69% of Israeli infants consume peanut products by the time they are nine months old, compared to just 10% of their British counterparts. (The participants in both groups were Jewish, to minimize any underlying genetic differences.)
It’s not just Israeli kids either. A study last year found that most food allergies were more prevalent among well-educated Canadians born in Canada than among immigrants. An earlier study indicates the likelihood of an environmental component, showing that a high prevalence of “allergic diseases” like hay fever and asthma in Asian immigrants was strongly associated with how long the immigrants had been living in Australia.
Dr. Gideon Lack, a professor of pediatric allergy at King’s College London and one of the researchers behind the Israel-UK study, is the principal investigator of a current British clinical research study that aims to determine whether the best way to prevent peanut allergy is through avoidance or early consumption. Called LEAP, which stands for Learning Early About Peanut Allergy, the study is following 640 children at high risk of developing allergies from infancy through age 5. The randomly assigned avoiders were not allowed to eat foods containing peanuts until age 3, while those in the consumption group are being fed different kinds of peanut products—including Bamba—three times a week. The findings are expected to be ready at some point next year, after which a one-year follow-up study will be conducted.
Lack says it’s too early to tell which way the data are blowing and told me the results could end up solidly in the gray area, with no clear advantage being conferred to the population at large by either avoidance or consumption. But a relatively rapid change in public health policy could be in the offing, he predicted, if the study ends up showing huge benefits of either avoidance or consumption that affect all types of populations—those with and without a strong family history of allergy, for example—and demonstrates that either practice has a long-term effect.
Bamba’s hardly expecting results to help its entry overseas. “In Israel, Bamba is a unique local phenomenon that took years to develop; Osem doesn’t expect that to be the reaction in international markets,” says Nadav Cohen Keidar, a spokesman for the company, which is now majority-owned by Nestle. Although Bamba is already being sold in the United States and England, sales in those countries are geared toward the kosher market, many of whose customers are already familiar with the product.
One issue in the puffs’ favor is that despite the peanut allergy craze, Americans have not stopped buying nuts. On the contrary, the nuts category will be seeing the most growth within the salty snack sector by 2015, reaching volume growth of 2.49% by that year, according to an April 2011 market indicator report on the US snack industry prepared by Canada’s International Market Bureau. “Nuts are gaining in popularity with the consumer and are predicted to continue experiencing high growth rates unseen since 2004,” the market report found, attributing the success to consumer awareness of the high protein, fiber and antioxidant characteristics of nuts.
Culture, including food culture, can take a long time to change. Before writing off American grocery shelves, peanut puff producers ought to keep in mind the upstream battle of sushi. Once upon a time, The Story of Sushi author Trevor Corson told Slate in 2007, the Japanese concoction was rejected as a possible import because everyone “thought it would be too disgusting for Americans to try.”
Joy in the Congo: A musical miracle
There’s a remarkable symphony orchestra in the Congo, 200 musicians defying the poverty of their war-torn country and creating some of the most moving music we have ever heard. Bob Simon reports.
”Joy in the Congo” seems an unlikely — even impossible — title for a story from the Congo, considering the searing poverty and brutal civil war that have decimated that country. Yet in Kinshasa, the capital city, we found an unforgettable symphony orchestra — 200 singers and instrumentalists defying the poverty, hardship, and struggles of life in the world’s poorest country…and creating some of the most moving music we have ever heard. Follow Bob Simon to the Congo to hear the sounds and stories of the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra.
Simon Deng, a former South Sudanese slave taken by a neighbor as a young boy to Islamist Northern Sudan, gave this impassioned speech at the Durban Watch Conference in New York, Sept 22, 2011.
I want to thank the organizers of this conference, The Perils of Global Intolerance. It is a great honor for me and it is a privilege really to be among today’s distinguished speakers.
I came here as a friend of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. I came to protest this Durban conference which is based on a set of lies. It is organized by nations who are themselves are guilty of the worst kinds of oppression.
It will not help the victims of racism. It will only isolate and target the Jewish state. It is a tool of the enemies of Israel. The UN has itself become a tool against Israel. For over 50 years, 82 percent of the UN General Assembly emergency meetings have been about condemning one state – Israel. Hitler couldn’t have been made happier.
The Durban Conference is an outrage. All decent people will know that.
But friends, I come here today with a radical idea. I come to tell you that there are peoples who suffer from the UN’s anti-Israelism even more than the Israelis. I belong to one of those people.
Please hear me out.
By exaggerating Palestinian suffering, and by blaming the Jews for it, the UN has muffled the cries of those who suffer on a far larger scale.
For over 50 years the indigenous black population of Sudan — Christians and Muslims alike — has been the victims of the brutal, racist Arab Muslim regimes in Khartoum.
The UN is focused about Palestinians, while ignoring ethnic cleansing in Sudan.
In South Sudan, my homeland, about 4 million innocent men, women and children were slaughtered from 1955 to 2005. Seven million were ethnically cleansed and they became the largest refugee group since World War II.
The UN is concerned about the so-called Palestinian refugees. They dedicated a separate agency for them, and they are treated with a special privilege.
Meanwhile, my people, ethnically cleansed, murdered and enslaved, are relatively ignored. The UN refuses to tell the world the truth about the real causes of Sudan’s conflicts. Who knows really what is happening in Darfur? It is not a “tribal conflict.”
It is a conflict rooted in Arab colonialism well known in north Africa. In Darfur, a region in the Western Sudan, everybody is Muslim. Everybody is Muslim because the Arabs invaded the North of Africa and converted the indigenous people to Islam. In the eyes of the Islamists in Khartoum, the Darfuris are not Muslim enough. And the Darfuris do not want to be Arabized. They love their own African languages and dress and customs. The Arab response is genocide! But nobody at the UN tells the truth about Darfur.
In the Nuba Mountains, another region of Sudan, genocide is taking place as I speak. The Islamist regime in Khartoum is targeting the black Africans – Muslims and Christians. Nobody at the UN has told the truth about the Nuba Mountains.
Do you hear the UN condemn Arab racism against blacks?
What you find on the pages of the New York Times, or in the record of the UN condemnations is “Israeli crimes” and Palestinian suffering. My people have been driven off the front pages because of the exaggerations about Palestinian suffering. What Israel does is portrayed as a Western sin. But the truth is that the real sin happens when the West abandons us: the victims of Arab/Islamic apartheid.
Chattel slavery was practiced for centuries in Sudan. It was revived as a tool of war in the early 90s. Khartoum declared jihad against my people and this legitimized taking slaves as war booty. Arab militias were sent to destroy Southern villages and were encouraged to take African women and children as slaves. We believe that up to 200,000 were kidnapped, brought to the North and sold into slavery.
I am a living proof of this crime against humanity.
I don’t like talking about my experience as a slave, but I do it because it is important for the world to know that slavery exists even today.
I was only nine years old when an Arab neighbor named Abdullahi tricked me into following him to a boat. The boat wound up in Northern Sudan where he gave me as a gift to his family. For three and a half years I was their slave going through something that no child should ever go through: brutal beatings and humiliations; working around the clock; sleeping on the ground with animals; eating the family’s left-overs. During those three years I was unable to say the word “no.” All I could say was “yes,” “yes,” “yes.”
The United Nations knew about the enslavement of South Sudanese by the Arabs. Their own staff reported it. It took UNICEF – under pressure from the Jewish-led American Anti-Slavery Group — 16 years to acknowledge what was happening. I want to publicly thank my friend Dr. Charles Jacobs for leading the anti-slavery fight.
But the Sudanese government and the Arab League pressured UNICEF, and UNICEF backtracked, and started to criticize those who worked to liberate Sudanese slaves. In 1998, Dr. Gaspar Biro, the courageous UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Sudan who reported on slavery, resigned in protest of the UN’s actions.
Today, tens of thousands of black Sudanese are enslaved and the UN is silent.
My friends, today, tens of thousands of black South Sudanese still serve their masters in the North and the UN is silent about that. It would offend the OIC and the Arab League.
As a former slave and a victim of the worst sort of racism, allow me to explain why I think calling Israel a racist state is absolutely absurd and immoral.
I have been to Israel five times visiting the Sudanese refugees. Let me tell you how they ended up there. These are Sudanese who fled Arab racism, hoping to find shelter in Egypt. They were wrong. When Egyptian security forces slaughtered 26 black refugees in Cairo who were protesting Egyptian racism, the Sudanese realized that the Arab racism is the same in Khartoum or Cairo. They needed shelter and they found it in Israel. Dodging the bullets of the Egyptian border patrols and walking for very long distances, the refugees’ only hope was to reach Israel’s side of the fence, where they knew they would be safe.
Black Muslims from Darfur chose Israel above all the other Arab-Muslim states of the area. Do you know what this means!? And the Arabs say Israel is racist!?
In Israel, black Sudanese, Christian and Muslim were welcomed and treated like human beings. Just go and ask them, like I have done. They told me that compared to the situation in Egypt, Israel is “heaven.”
Is Israel a racist state? To my people, the people who know racism – the answer is absolutely not. Israel is a state of people who are the colors of the rainbow. Jews themselves come in all colors, even black. I met with Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Beautiful black Jews.
So, yes… I came here today to tell you that the people who suffer most from the UN anti-Israel policy are not the Israelis but all those people who the UN ignores in order to tell its big lie against Israel: we, the victims of Arab/Muslim abuse: women, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, homosexuals, in the Arab/Muslim world. These are the biggest victims of UN Israel hatred.
Israel is a state of people who are the colors of the rainbow.
Look at the situation of the Copts in Egypt, the Christians in Iraq, and Nigeria, and Iran, the Hindus and Bahais who suffer from Islamic oppression. The Sikhs. We – a rainbow coalition of victims and targets of Jihadis — all suffer. We are ignored, we are abandoned. So that the big lie against the Jews can go forward.
In 2005, I visited one of the refugee camps in South Sudan. I met a 12 year old girl who told me about her dream. In a dream she wanted to go to school to become a doctor. And then, she wanted to visit Israel. I was shocked. How could this refugee girl who spent most of her life in the North know about Israel? When I asked why she wanted to visit Israel, she said: “This is our people.” I was never able to find an answer to my question.
On January 9 of 2011 South Sudan became an independent state. For South Sudanese, that means continuation of oppression, brutalization, demonization, Islamization, Arabization and enslavement.
In a similar manner, the Arabs continue denying Jews their right for sovereignty in their homeland and the Durban III conference continues denying Israel’s legitimacy.
As a friend of Israel, I bring you the news that my President, the President of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir — publicly stated that the South Sudan embassy in Israel will be built— not in Tel Aviv, but in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people.
I also want to assure you that my own new nation, and all of its peoples, will oppose racist forums like the Durban III. We will oppose it by simply telling the truth. Our truth.
My Jewish friends taught me something I now want to say with you.
AM YISRAEL CHAI - The people of Israel lives!
This article originally at www.newenglishreview.org