No biz like food biz for Stamp

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The Independent Online
For someone with a food allergy a peanut may kill, or a glass of milk can bring on an excruciating stomach-ache. As a result, business is booming for manufacturers of foods suitable for the estimated 20 per cent of the UK population who suffer intolerance to foods such as wheat, dairy products and the additives used to colour and preserve them.

Research by the US National Institute of Health suggests that nearly half of US citizens have food or substance allergies.

Some of these aversions are natural. Dr Gerard Kielty, director of HealthScan, a London-based allergy-screening clinic, claims that "food is a drug. If someone turns out to be allergic to, say, tomatoes, you have to take it away by degrees".

However, industrial food processing could be at the root of many problems. Tim Lang, professor of food policy at Thames Valley University, says "the public is a guinea-pig, munching through unparalleled amounts of additives and contaminants".

Dr Erik Millstone, senior lecturer at the Science Policy Research Unit, says that not enough research has been done into the subject: "Incidences of asthma are going up sharply, and food triggers to asthma are becoming a greater problem." The sulphite preservatives that are the culprits are found in a wide range of foods, including soft drinks, beer, wine, sausage meat, soup, flour and glucose syrup.

"There is certainly scope for better labelling of processed food", Dr Millstone argues.

People forced to cut out favourite foods are a market eagerly in search of alternatives. Catering to this market won last year's Young Enterprise Award for the "Stamp Collection", a range of allergy-friendly, additive- free snack foods developed and endorsed by the film star and author Terence Stamp.

Mr Stamp's entry into this market is a peculiar story: the star suffered from constant stomach pain until the age of 27. Acting on the advice of the personal astrologer to the Italian film director Federico Fellini, he discovered that intolerances to dairy products, wheat and sugar were the cause of his trouble, and had to forgo his favourite foods.

Leslie Watson, the marathon runner and Mr Stamp's physiotherapist, told him about 10-year-old Poppy Buxton, who baked allergy-free cakes for her sister. "Terence was complaining that he'd had no biscuits or cakes or chocolate since the Sixties," recalls Poppy, now 18 and studying physics at London University.

In 1994, Stamp and Poppy's mother, Elizabeth Buxton - a cordon bleu cook who owns a company which imports freeze-dried astronaut food from the US - decided to go into business together to produce snacks for consumers with similar allergies. Mrs Buxton insists that her company is not just cashing in on a famous name: "Neither Terence nor I would have started all this if we'd not had a personal interest in it".

For Mr Stamp, the benefits have been more than financial. "He's always had a love of chocolate," says Poppy. "But he's much happier now and eats buckets of the stuff."