Tree nuts is the most common food allergy across the globe, said Vicki McWilliam, a clinical allergy dietician and researcher at Royal Children’s Hospital, in a separate presentation on the issue during the World Nut and Dried Fruit Congress in Boca Raton.
Nut allergies affect about 2% of the global population, but it can be as low as less than 1% in Mediterranean countries but more than 10% in some European countries and about 3% in Australia, she said. While many people grow out of other food allergies, nut allergies tend to last a lifetime and can cause severe respiratory and cardiac reactions, even death.
There is no treatment for nut allergies, but some research suggests early exposure to infants as young as three to four months can reduce allergic development, said Patrick Archer, president of the American Peanut Council, during the peanut panel.
Peanuts have an advantage in the nut category on the issue of sustainable growth, Archer added. Because it’s a nitrogen-fixing plant, it doesn’t require much chemical fertilization, and it needs relatively little water compared to other nuts.
“Sustainability is necessary to do business in the 21st century,” Whitehouse said. “Peanuts have a fantastic sustainability story to tell.”