A bite of a cookie containing peanuts could cause the airway to constrict fatally. Sharing a toy with another child who had earlier eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich could raise a case of hives. A peanut butter cup dropped in a Halloween bag could contaminate the rest of the treats, posing an unknown risk.
These are the scenarios that "make your bone marrow turn cold" according to L. Val Giddings, vice president for food and agriculture of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Besides representing the policy interests of food biotech companies in Washington, D.C., Giddings is the father of a four-year-old boy with a severe peanut allergy. Peanuts are among the most allergenic foods; estimates of the number of people who experience a reaction to the legumes hover around 2 percent of the population.