Allergy Debate: Should ‘Fake’ Peanut Butter Be Banned From School?

I often send my 5-year-old to school with a FreeNut Butter and jelly sandwich. For the uninitiated, FreeNut Butter is the brand name of a soy-based spread that looks and even tastes somewhat like peanut butter but is actually nut-free. I’ll always include a little Post-It note on the top of the sandwich bag: Dear Teacher, This sandwich is made with peanut-butter substitute (ignore my child when he tells you it’s peanut butter). No, really, I do this. My child’s school is a nut-free facility, and it’s school policy to alert teachers of anything questionable. And so I do.

But schools in parts of Ontario are now being told that even popular peanut-butter substitutes like soy butter should be banned altogether to protect students with life-threatening allergies. According to the London Free Press, a school board memo telling principals to kibosh fake peanut butter has sparked a powerful public debate.

In the memo, Thames Valley District school board director Bill Tucker wrote that peanut-butter replacement products are “no more appropriate in our schools than regular peanut butter. This decision was made after determining that our staff would have great difficulty being able to differentiate between real peanut butter and the substitute.”

On one side of the debate are people like Tucker, who says he’d rather err on the side of caution and create a safe environment for allergic children. “We have some kids who can’t even stand the touch or aroma of peanut butter. If a teacher can’t distinguish between two products, how do we expect five-year-old to distinguish?” he says.

On the other side are angry parents who think this move has reached an all-time high of ridiculousness. They say that soy butter is of no harm to kids with a nut allergy, and so banning it from the classroom makes no sense. Granted, most of the nut-free replacements look exactly like peanut butter when it comes to packaging, but teachers should be able to distinguish between the two. And the London Free Press points out that Hilton Soy Foods, which produces Wowbutter (a soy-based spread), even hasĀ  a “school procedure” component to its website that includes labels to fix to lunch boxes so that there’s no confusion (I guess this is a fancier version of my Post-It note solution).

Not surprisingly, the debate is getting rather heated. We’re interested in hearing what you think: has the school board gone too far, or is such a move necessary to ensure that allergic children are safe?


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