Broad beans and favism, not an allergy but a genetic disease

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Broad beans and favism, an antinomy that for once concerns neither an allergy nor a food intolerance but a genetic, hereditarily transmitted disease.
Favism expresses the deficiency of an enzyme, G6PD, (1) which is essential for the survival of red blood cells. Fabic individuals are at risk of acute hemolytic crisis following the ingestion of:
– fava beans (Vicia faba). In any form, including derivative),
– Quinine (used as a flavoring in some drinks, such as tonic water), (2)
– Vitamin C in amounts greater than 1 g/day, (3)
– Herbal preparations with Verbena Hybrida, Acalypha indica, Coptis chinensis and others,
– certain drugs (e.g., sulfa drugs, salicylics, quinidine, menadione, etc.), which inhibit the already deficient enzyme activity. (4)
Henna or henna dyes-used for hair dyes and skin decorations-are themselves contraindicated to phablets even for external use. The French agency ANSM, Agence nationale de sécurité du médicament et des produits de santé then recorded hemolytic crises due to exposure to bleach, copper sulfate (phytosanitary), sodium chlorate (herbicide), nitrobenzene (solvent), DDT.

Favism is widespread among Mediterranean populations, with peaks in some areas including Greece and Sardinia. As well as in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It is the most widespread enzyme deficiency on the planet, affecting at least 420 million people. Equal to 6 percent of the world’s population. (5)

The health hazard can be serious, especially for children. And yet broad beans are not included in the list of ingredients subject to mandatory specific label information. As is the case with more common allergens. (6) This issue has been fully addressed by ANSES, the French food safety agency. Which pointed out at the time the dangers underlying the lack of specific labeling requirements. (7)

Notes

(1) See the website of theItalian Favismo Association,
(2) Quinine, when used as a flavor, must be explicitly mentioned on the label (in the same way as caffeine. See EU reg. 1169/11, Annex VII, Part D, point 4)
(3) Safety threshold defined for adults with favism by ANSES, Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail (France). See last note
(4) The list of drugs to avoid, at http://www.g6pd.org/it/G6PDDeficiency-it/SafeUnsafe-it/DaEvitare_ISS-it.aspx
(5) Data given by the Association
Favisme in Suisse
. According to previous ISS (Istituto Superiore di Sanità) study, favism affects 7.5 percent of the world’s population
(6) Cf. Reg. EU 1169/11, Annex II
(7) ANSES scientific report 25.8.06, at https://www.anses.fr/fr/system/files/NUT2006sa0033.pdf

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.