Risk, Issues & Crisis

March 16, 2018

Food allergies no laughing matter Peter Rabbit


By Annabelle Roberts, Senior Account Executive, Instinctif Partners Business Resilience

Who would have thought that a film about the nation’s favourite Rabbit could cause such controversy? Yet, ahead of its UK launch on 16th March the film has already been hitting the headlines – arguably for the wrong reasons. The scene in question features Peter Rabbit and his friends tormenting their human enemy Mr. McGregor, by throwing blackberries at him – to which he is allergic. One of the berries lands in Mr. McGregor’s mouth, triggering severe anaphylactic shock.

Within moments of the film being released, social media was ablaze with complaints about the scene, with #boycottpeterrabbit trending on Twitter. Shortly afterwards, a petition was circulated calling for Sony Pictures to apologise, something that it did two days after the film was released in America.

But, is raising awareness of allergies really such a bad thing?

Whilst allergy groups accused Sony Pictures of sending a dangerous message to children about a potentially deadly situation, the film has undeniably created a global boost in awareness around food allergies. Bringing focused attention to the importance of taking allergies seriously and responsibly – especially to a younger more impressionable demographic and their parents.

According to the Food Standards Agency, food allergies and intolerances affect around 8% of children and 2% of adults in the UK, sometimes with fatal consequences, yet awareness of allergies, and crucially how to help somebody suffering from anaphylactic shock, is dangerously low. Meanwhile undeclared allergens are still the number one cause of food recalls in the UK.

So, with the Rabbitgate controversy as a tool to gain a captive target audience’s attention, food allergy advocacy groups and charities quite rightly took to social media to warn thousands of followers of the dangers – arguably reaching many more than they would have otherwise done without the help of the cheeky rabbit and his pals.

With UK schools now legally allowed to buy adrenaline auto-injector devices to use in an emergency we surely need as many conversations as possible about the seriousness of allergies among children, how to spot the signs and what to do to help sufferers of anaphylactic shock. Which as Mr. McGregor knows only too well is to quickly administer his EpiPen!

Once alerted to the issue Sony apologised, acknowledging that it could have been more thoughtful when creating the scene. As insensitive as it was however, at least awareness around food allergies has been given a welcome boost.