Alumna's Search Yields Help for Others
By Lynn Burke
Anne Munoz-Furlong, B.I.S. '87, discovered something when her infant daughter, Mariel, was diagnosed with milk and egg allergies'information on rearing a child with food allergies was nowhere to be found. So after five years of struggling to find such information, Furlong decided to organize a clearinghouse where parents facing a similar challenge could find medically accurate, practical information on what can sometimes be a fatal condition.
Armed with a desk, a Mac, and "the determination to make things better for other parents," says Furlong, she began what has become the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) in 1991. The organization today boasts 23,500 members from the United States and 62 other countries, a staff of 16, and a medical advisory board of leaders in food allergy science and medicine that reviews all FAAN material before publication to ensure that it is medically accurate.
Furlong published the first newsletters with funds she earned from part-time freelance jobs and her own personal donations. After two years, FAAN membership had grown enough to enable her to obtain grants and work on the newsletter and other FAAN products full time. FAAN now publishes six different newsletters. Its other materials include seven videos, two cookbooks, more than 20 pamphlets, and a series of children's books. FAAN's two web sites also provide families with food allergy information.
The organization not only provides information to the parents of children with food allergies through its materials and conferences, but also provides resources and information to schools, health professionals, pharmaceutical companies, the food industry, and government officials. In addition, FAAN's Special Allergy Alert Program helps the food industry quickly disseminate news of product recalls, labeling errors, and ingredient changes to consumers with food allergy concerns.
FAAN also works with the food industry through its participation in the Food Allergy Issues Alliance, a group of food trade associations and other organizations. The alliance has developed food allergen labeling guidelines that will be presented to the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The guidelines call for food producers to alert consumers to the presence of major food allergens in their products in clear and simple language, declare allergens when present in natural flavors, and establish guidelines for "may contain" labeling.
Furlong credits the writing focus of her George Mason B.I.S. degree with preparing her for the variety of writing styles she needs when producing FAAN materials. She says a writing class that taught her to write from personal experience was especially valuable. "That's what makes FAAN so useful to families and has made a big difference," she says. The other focus of her degree, business administration, taught her the questions she needed to ask to begin FAAN.
Furlong says that George Mason's program was beneficial in another way. "As an adult student raising a family, George Mason's flexible schedule of classes was the only way I could get my degree. I was on the 10-year plan but I made it," she says with a laugh.
Her family has been a major source of support to her throughout and also is actively involved in FAAN. Her husband, Terry, is its chief operating officer, and her older daughter, Marguerite, contributes recipes and helps out in the office when home from school.
And how is Mariel, now a high school senior, doing these days? Just fine, thank you. The biggest challenge facing her at present is getting her college admissions applications in on time.