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Armed Forces: Allergies

Volume 501: debated on Thursday 26 November 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what his policy is on the eligibility of people with nut allergies for service in the armed forces; (301607)

(2) what estimate he has made of the number of service personnel in each armed service who have nut allergies;

(3) whether members of the armed forces with a declared nut allergy are allowed to serve on operations;

(4) if he will consider the merits of providing special ration packs for members of the armed forces who have nut allergies.

It is our policy that armed forces personnel should be recruited to be fully fit for deployment worldwide on operations. For this reason, the services do not recruit or commission personnel with existing medical conditions which require special diets, such as those with nut allergies. We currently have no plans to review this policy.

This policy is intended to protect such individuals from military circumstances which may adversely impact upon their condition and to ensure the effectiveness of the armed forces. Although it may be possible to accommodate the special dietary requirements of those with nut allergies in a UK-based unit, or possibly on a large ship or at a major overseas base, we cannot guarantee to provide a special diet in the field or when deployed on operations, and individuals are recruited on the basis that they will be able to deploy world-wide. In such circumstances, it would be quite wrong to run risks which could impact on the individual and his or her colleagues on operations. In some cases, personnel will depend on food supplied locally, and our ability to assure nut-free status would not always be possible—as would certainly be the case if an individual were to be captured by enemy forces, for example.

The single services manage individuals who develop nut allergies during their service careers according to their specific operational requirements and each case will be considered on an individual basis. While we will make every effort to retain in-service individuals who subsequently develop this and similar conditions, provided that there are worthwhile military roles for them to fulfil, they may have to be re-graded and will probably not be able to deploy on operations. Again, this will depend on the severity of the individual's allergy; those with life-threatening allergies will almost certainly not be deployed to operational theatres, due to factors such as requirement of access to emergency treatment and storage requirements of the medication required by these individuals. This also applies to other disabilities which arise in service, but the forces do not recruit individuals where they would only be able to serve in a medically restricted capacity from the outset.

The total number of individuals who were diagnosed with nut allergies while serving in the armed forces and are currently still serving is not held centrally, and could be provided only by examining the medical records of all personnel at disproportionate cost.

Since individuals with nut allergies will not usually be deployed, ration packs tailored for such individuals are not produced. Since most food consumption on deployment is delivered by mass catering, often using local sources, and for other reasons noted above, provision of such ration packs would not circumvent the barriers to deployment for those who suffer nut allergies.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what special ration packs are provided to the armed forces to meet specific dietary requirements of service personnel. (301611)

The 24 hour operational ration pack, which is available for operations, exercises and training, includes the following variants: General Purpose, which is suitable for personnel without specific dietary requirements; Halal; Sikh/Hindu; and Vegetarian, which is also suitable for Kosher diets.