President Joe Biden is expected to sign legislation that adds sesame as the ninth major food allergen that must be labeled on packaged foods, following Congress’ passage of the Food Allergy, Safety, Treatment and Research (FASTER) Act.
On April 14, the House voted to pass the FASTER Act—sending the bill to Biden’s desk for his signature—following its passage in March by the Senate.
Manufacturers will have until Jan. 1, 2023 to list sesame as an allergen on food labels.
Under the bill, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services must issue a report on scientific opportunities in food allergy research that examines prevention, treatment and new cures, lawmakers said in a news release. The report also must recommend how to develop and implement a process for adding emerging allergens to the list of major food allergens, they added.
“Adding sesame to food allergen labels is a commonsense, bipartisan solution that will make purchasing food safer for millions of Americans with food allergies,” Rep. Elaine Luria, Democrat from Virginia, said in the news release.
Food allergies or intolerances impact 85 million Americans, and more than 1.6 million Americans are allergic to sesame, according to Lisa Gable, chief executive officer of Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). “There is nothing more important to the food allergy community than ensuring that the FASTER Act is put into law,” she said in a press release.
According to FARE, the bill marks the first time since 2006 that a new allergen has been added to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA).
Passage of the FASTER Act was years in the making, according to groups who supported it.
“It takes massive effort to make massive change,” said Jenna Riemenschneider, director of advocacy with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), in a news release. “This is the result of years of hard work and the power of our amazing food allergy community. We’re extremely grateful to the thousands of AAFA community members who’ve joined us by using their voices to get the FASTER Act passed.”
Riemenschneider said her organization submitted more than 500 individual reports to FDA on allergic reactions to sesame, and AAFA and its Kids with Food Allergies Division community members sent more than 3,000 emails in recent weeks, encouraging congressional leadership to support the legislation.
“This life-changing legislation expands public health knowledge of all food allergies and makes food labels safer for people with sesame allergy,” she said.
In November 2014, several medical experts petitioned FDA to extend allergen disclosure requirements to sesame-containing foods. One of the individuals who signed the petition—Peter Lurie, M.D., a former FDA official and president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)—expressed his gratitude to other organizations who fought for such allergen labeling, including FARE, AAFA and thousands of consumers.
“Eight years is too long to have waited for basic disclosures for an allergen that affects more than a million Americans, frequently causing severe and even life-threatening reactions,” Lurie said in a statement. “CSPI calls on the FDA to develop an evidence-based process using its existing authorities to regularly update the list of priority allergens required to be labeled in the United States based on the latest science.”