Calls for withdrawal of Peter Rabbit film over 'allergy bullying' fears

Charities are calling for the withdrawal of a children's film which portrayed a character with allergies being pelted with the food he is allergic to.

Peter and his friends are seen pelting Tom McGregor with blackberries - which they know he is allergic to.

Organisations warned that the scene in Peter Rabbit, which is to be screened in UK cinemas from next month, was "irresponsible" and showed a "lack of understanding" of what it is like to live with an serious allergy.

The scene, which has angered viewers in the US, where it was opened in cinemas last weekend, shows Tom McGregor, the nephew of Beatrix Potter’s notorious Mr McGregor character, being intentionally pelted with blackberries by Peter Rabbit and his friends - resulting in him needing to use life saving emergency medication.

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The film’s production company, Sony Pictures, has apologised for the film’s portrayal of food allergies, but critics say that further action should be taken, with some insisting that the film should be withdrawn.

Charity Allergy UK said it had been “inundated” with calls about the film, which sees Mr McGregor use his Epipen, which injects adrenaline into a person with an allergic reaction in a bid to stop them entering potentially fatal anaphylaxis.

Chief executive Carla Jones said: “Anaphylaxis can and does kill. To include a scene in a children’s film that includes a serious allergic reaction and not to do it responsibly is unacceptable, as is bullying.

“Mocking allergic disease shows a complete lack of understanding of the seriousness of food allergy and trivialises the challenges faced by those who live with this condition, particularly parents who live in fear of their child suffering a life threatening reaction. We expect to see a significant response from our community, and we will be communicating with the production company about the film’s withdrawal.”

TV doctor Dr Christian Jessen tweeted: “On Peter Rabbit gate: anaphylaxis kills. Kids copy what they see. Foods people are most often allergic to are easily available. (and easily thrown!) I don’t think this is just a massive sense of humour failure but not was there any malintent on the part of the film makers.”

Lynne Regent, chief executive of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, said:

“Severe allergies are not a laughing matter; anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction and can be fatal. Including a scene, in children’s film, in which a character with known food allergy is maliciously and deliberately exposed to their allergen is irresponsible, as making light of such a serious issue may cause people to think that the risks are less severe.

"We understand the producers have apologised for their depiction of food allergy in the film, but we would expect further action to be taken considering the issues that have been raised by the allergic community. We will be communicating with the production company about this."

She added that "allergy bullying", where children can be threatened with the foods they are allergic to, is on the rise. She said: "Sadly, we know of some incidents of ‘allergy bullying’ in schools where pupils have deliberately exposed other pupils to their allergens. Bullying in any form is not acceptable, but for pupils with severe allergies the potential consequences are deadly, which is why any incidents should be dealt with very seriously by all involved."

Sony Pictures said in a joint statement with the filmmakers that "food allergies and are a serious issue" and the film "should not have made light" of a character being allergic to blackberries "even in a cartoonish, slapstick way."

It added: "Sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologise."

Last year, a 13-year-old school boy from London died after suffering anaphylaxis at school. Another pupil was arrested amid claims he had flicked a piece of cheese into the mouth of Karanbir Cheema, who was known to have food allergies.

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