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Mums told ‘don’t avoid eggs’

05/11/2014

Egg and soldiers back on the menu for pregnant women and babies

Health experts are telling women not to avoid eggs when pregnant, nor to delay giving them to their babies.  The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) says that emerging research suggests that eating eggs in pregnancy and weaning is more likely to reduce the risk of the baby developing an egg allergy.

Government food safety experts have also announced a review of the evidence relating to the safety of eggs in the UK and the BEIC says that the safety record of British Lion eggs means that vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and babies should now be allowed to consume them when runny.

A review paper[i] published recently in the Journal of Health Visiting concludes that historic concerns about allergy and food safety may have resulted in unnecessary avoidance of eggs by these groups.    A new analysis of nationally representative infant feeding data[ii] shows that only 9% of babies are currently given eggs at six months, the recommended age to start weaning.  Even at 12 months, only 36% are given eggs, with allergy concerns given as the main reason for avoiding eggs. 

Data from the latest UK Infant Feeding Study of more than 10,000 mothers[iii] also showed that three- quarters largely avoided eggs and more than one in ten avoided giving eggs to their babies altogether.

Dr Juliet Gray, registered nutritionist and co-author of the paper, said, “Eggs are highly nutritious, containing key nutrients including high quality protein, vitamin D, selenium, choline and omega-3 fatty acids, several of which are not found in many other foods.

“Our review concluded that mums and their babies can be encouraged to eat eggs, as this could have a positive effect in terms of nutritional intake and may also help immune tolerance of eggs.

“The BEIC advice that vulnerable groups can go back to runny eggs, if produced under the Lion scheme, should further reassure women that they can enjoy them normally in pregnancy and give them to their babies when weaning from six months.”

Emerging evidence suggests that the delayed introduction of potential food allergens, such as eggs, during weaning may actually be counterproductive. The introduction of these foods while breastfeeding, between the ages of 4-7 months, could protect against developing allergies to these foods. This hypothesis is currently being tested by two major studies[iv] while two government committees[v] are also reviewing the current advice on infant feeding and food allergy.

The government’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) does not advise pregnant women and babies to avoid eggs to reduce the risk of developing allergy, but it does continue to advise all vulnerable groups to make sure eggs are thoroughly cooked.  However the FSA recognises the significant progress the British egg industry has made towards eliminating salmonella from British Lion eggs and it will be seeking a view from its Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food on the evidence relating to the safety of eggs consumed in the UK early next year.

For more information, please contact the British Egg Information Service on 020 7052 8899

Notes to editors

  • Since the salmonella scare in 1988 the government has advised that vulnerable groups, including expectant mums, infants and the elderly, should avoid eating eggs that have not been fully cooked.
  • The British Egg Industry Council’s Lion Code of Practice, introduced 15 years ago, has effectively eliminated salmonella from British Lion eggs. 
  • Around 90% of British eggs are now produced within the British Lion scheme, which requires producers to follow a stringent Code of Practice, including vaccinating their hens against salmonella and stamping a best-before date on the egg shell as well as on the box
  • In November 2013, former Health Minister Edwina Currie, whose comments fuelled the salmonella scare, described British Lion eggs as the safest in the world. 

For more information, please contact the British Egg Information Service on 020 7052 8899

 

[i] Gray J, Gibson S (2014) Egg consumption in pregnancy and infant diets: How advice is changing, Journal of Health Visiting, 2: 198-206

[iii] McAndrew F, Thompson J, Fellows L, Large A, Speed M, Renfrew MJ (2012) Infant Feeding Survey 2010.  Health and Social Care Information Centre, Leeds

[iv] EAT (Enquiring About Tolerance) and LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy)

[v] COT (Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment) and SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition)