What Does Allergy UK's Consumer Award for Products Mean?
When Muriel Simmons joined Allergy UK she reorganised its finances and introduced a successful endorsement scheme.
The charity realised that an endorsement scheme would benefit three different groups. Firstly, it would provide a vital service to the public; secondly, it would revitalise their own turnover; and thirdly, with one in three members of the population suffering an allergy, an endorsement would supply an obvious marketing tool for manufacturers.It is difficult for consumers to research appropriate accreditations etc. for testing services or the technical specification and efficacy of various products, so this is a useful service. Manufacturers who have purchased endorsements use them to support their marketing activities. Consumers are confident in their purchases because the products are endorsed by an appropriate body of experts.
"I felt it would be a service to the public with allergies to say that we had tested the product and found that the criteria laid down by the experts (which were incredibly high) had been met." - Muriel Simmons
The idea evolved from the fact that sufferers were frequently contacting Allergy UK for advice on consumer decisions. They wanted to know which vacuum cleaners, cleaning products etc were most suitable, and Allergy UK realised they could turn this to their advantage...
Some companies had approached Allergy UK about endorsements in the past, without seeing why they should have to pay. But the charity could not risk endorsing a product without scientific evidence, and they could not ask specialists to give their time free of charge to review commercial products. The process had to be treated in a commercial way.
YorkTest is endorsed by a number of YorkTest-styled experts; it also holds an Allergy UK Consumer Award that is frequently mentioned in publicity about the foodSCAN tests and MAST panel (multi allergen screening test). Understandably, the nature of the endorsement tends to be blurred when journalists or others discuss the tests and it tends to be shorthanded as a recommendation:
Only antibody tests that use blood like the YORK(tm) test are recommended by Allergy UK.The Allergy UK (AUK) Seal of Approval has particular criteria; it is awarded to products that:
specifically restrict or remove high levels of named allergens from the environment of allergy sufferers and can be scientifically tested with measurable results.Those criteria are established in a known research laboratory or are validated from published studies. What criteria need to be met for the Consumer Award?
The Consumer Award is intended for products that will generally benefit allergy sufferers and improve their state of health and wellbeing. The award is given entirely on the basis of consumer opinion, and evidence of this must be supplied from a minimum of 25 consumers. Their opinions can cover anything from durability and ease of use right through to value for money and perceived benefit. This evidence and a product sample will also be carefully assessed by a panel of experts from Allergy UK to verify the consumer's opinions. [Emphasis added.]Elsewhere, I've seen explanations that the Consumer Award is what manufacturers purchase when they can't afford the testing for the Seal of Approval or they are too small to be able to afford clinical trials. The Consumer Award is for:
products that are of benefit to the public but which do not actually reduce or remove allergens in the environment and cannot be tested scientifically. Alternatively, the company concerned may not be able to afford clinical trials. In these cases Allergy UK can confer the Consumer Award which relies on anecdotal rather than clinical evidence.I find this a little surprising given the frequency with which remarks that claim clinical validation are attributed to people associated with Allergy UK. E.g., in a Daily Mail item about allergy and intolerance tests, when discussing the foodSCAN intolerance tests:
Maureen Jenkins from Allergy UK says: 'This is a clinically proven test which means it has gone through scientific trials to show that it achieves the same result everytime and can be useful in diagnosing certain food intolerances'.However, that story is from 2002, before even the publication of the much-cited GUT paper from 2004. If the reference is to unpublished scientific trials that had not been submitted to peer review, then this should have been made clear in the article. I am not aware of any published trial that shows that the foodSCAN tests achieve "the same result everytime and can be useful in diagnosing cetain food intolerances": and, as the reference is to "trials" I would have to have missed several or at least two.
I have examined the published literature, and I think that it is premature (at best) and possibily misleading to advocate IgG testing for the diagnosis of food intolerances. I don't believe that IgG for food intolerances has been clinically proven and I don't believe that there is sufficient basic science research to support the theory as yet. Ironically, I would agree that it would be currently inappropriate to seek a Seal of Approval for the foodSCAN tests or MAST panel even if they were eligible. But, I do think that it would be helpful if the claim that these tests are "clinically proven" were to be dropped. It would be helpful if there were a greater awareness that the Allergy UK Consumer Award is indicative only of anecdotal evidence, supplied by 25 consumers and verified by unindentified members of the original panel who made the award and those who have subsequently endorsed its renewal.
Judging by the audits of YorkTest's customer satisfaction questionnaires, I have no doubt that AUK and YorkTest could provide thousands of glowing customer testimonials. Similarly, having looked into the matter, it is clear that the Consumer Award is not subject to the "incredibly high" testing criteria by experts to which Muriel Simmons referred in the NVCO piece to which I referred at the top.
However, it would be helpful to know what others thought the phrase, "as recommended by Allergy UK" implied about the tests or what they understood by "clinically proven". Did you think that such an award could be made on the basis of anecdotal evidence from a small number of consumers? Did you assume that the endorsement was (at least partly) based on a review of the clinical evidence by clinical allergists and immunologists or active researchers? Would it be useful to know who had endorsed the award and its renewal?
Related posts:Why Results from an Allergy or Intolerance Test May Be Misleading: Part 1 and Part 2
Self-Testing for Allergy and Intolerance in the UK: Part 1
Truthiness and referenciness make the case for IgG food intolerance tests
More allergy and intolerance testing nonsense: part 1
More allergy and intolerance testing nonsense: part 2
Quote Mining and Misrepresentation: Poor Ways to Claim Clinical Validation or Sound Science
What is the Significance of IgG Antibodies and Testing?
Why IgG Testing for Food Intolerance Is Not As Simple As ABC or Doh Ray Mi
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