Food allergy advocates were celebrating after President Joe Biden on April 23 signed the FASTER Act into law. The act makes sesame the ninth U.S. major allergen, and requires food makers to clearly label the allergenic seed on food packages as of January 2023.
That’s a huge win and a life-changing provision for the 1.5 million Americans managing sesame allergy. But that’s not all that FASTER does.
The act significantly impacts the broader food allergy community of 32 million Americans. It requires the Department of Health and Human Services to prepare a report on opportunities related to: food allergy prevalence, testing, risk management, disease prevention and treatments.
“The President’s signing today of the FASTER Act is a major victory for the entire food allergy community across the nation,” said Lisa Gable, CEO of the non-profit FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education).
The non-profits, supportive lawmakers, and food allergy advocates all lobbied tirelessly to see FASTER (short for Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research) to the finish line. “We are overjoyed including sesame on the allergen list is part of it,” said Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
As well, he notes, “there’s an immense need for more research across the board, which can help dramatically improve and save lives of people living with food allergies. The FASTER Act is a strong step in the right direction.”
Tribute to Lawmakers, Advocates
Gable thanked the President for signing, “along with the thousands of food allergy champions who made today a reality.” She noted in particular the co-sponsors of the Senate and House bills: Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), and Patrick McHenry (R-NC). As well, the community sent about 10,000 emails to lawmakers through write-in campaigns.
The act adds sesame to the list of major allergens in the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA). Campaigning to add sesame as tops allergen and require clear, plain-language labeling actually dates all the way back to 2015. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published a report that detailed just how difficult it was for consumers with the allergy to find safe food products. It noted that sesame is often listed under unfamiliar names such as “benne” or “tahini,” or hidden in ingredient lists under vague terms like “natural flavorings” or “spices”.
The current top eight U.S. allergens that must be clearly labeled are: milk, egg, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, fish, wheat and soybeans. In Europe, Canada, the U.K. and Australia, sesame is already recognized as a major allergen, and must be labeled.
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