How Far Should We Go to Protect Kids from Allergens?

Why one Canadian mother has petitioned to have oak trees around her son's school removed

Photography by Noel Reynolds, via Flickr (cc)

Lunch time at school can be scary for a child with severe food allergies. All it takes is one child to inadvertently bring food containing nuts or nut products to put other kids at risk.

Schools have done a pretty good job ensuring the safety of students with allergies. Many implement “nut-free” policies to prevent accidental reactions.

But as a parent, how far should you go to ensure that schools are taking the proper precautions for children with food allergies?

The Toronto Star recently reported that Donna Giustizia, a mother with two kids suffering from anaphylaxis—the most severe degree of allergic reaction—petitioned the city of Vaughan to remove all of the oak trees surrounding her son’s school because she feels that the acorns produced by the oak trees pose a serious health risk to kids with nut allergies.

“The acorns are not only presenting a risk to the tree nut-allergic students but it is also becoming a great cause of anxiety amongst all students with nut allergies,” Giustizia said in her appeal to the city of Vaughan, according to the Toronto Star. Giustizia also mentioned her concern that the acorns could “also be used to bully and torment children.”

The Toronto Star interviewed Dr. Maria Asper, a pediatric allergist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, who said she’s “not aware of any reports of children having an anaphylactic reaction upon contact with acorns, so I’m not sure what the risk really is. For the most part, as long as they’re just handled and not ingested, there’s no scientific literature to suggest anyone has had a reaction.”

The story also prompted a response from Anaphylaxis Canada. In a statement on the Anaphylaxis Canada website, Laurie Harada, executive director, said that “in the case of acorns, allergists quoted in media reports indicated they would have to be ingested to cause a serious reaction. In fact, not all children with tree nut allergies are allergic to acorns and acorns are not one of the more common tree nut allergies, such as almonds or pecans.” Harada also says that “the overarching principle is to teach children to be careful, not fearful, of allergenic foods. Education is the key factor in being able to manage safely with food allergies.”

What do you think? Is this mother taking her concern a bit too far? Should the city be responsible for cleaning up acorns to minimize risk?

Looking for more? Find out what happens when a parent violates the “no nuts” policy at school.

UPDATE: Donna Giustizia has dropped her request to have the trees removed, due to negative public reaction, according to The Calgary Herald.

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