FASTER Act for Sesame Labeling Passes in Senate

Legislation would add sesame as a major allergen
Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
FASTER Act for Sesame Labeling Passes in Senate
The FASTER Act would allow consumers with sesame allergies to better identify products containing the allergen.

The Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act, S. 578, which would add sesame as a major allergen, was unanimously passed on March 3 by the U.S. Senate.

The bipartisan sesame labeling bill is Food Allergy Research & Education’s (FARE) highest legislative priority. FARE is a nongovernmental organization engaged in food allergy advocacy, and the largest private funder of food allergy research.

The FASTER Act would require that sesame be labeled as an allergen on packaged foods. Sesame would become the ninth food allergen for which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires plain-language labeling. Sesame is often used when a label reads "natural flavors" or "natural spices," adding another layer of difficulty when consumers review product labels at the grocery store.

The bill was introduced by Sens. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, and Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut.

"On behalf of the nearly 1.6 million Americans who are allergic to sesame and live with the fear they could unknowingly consume this dangerous allergen, I thank Sen. Scott and Sen. Murphy for bringing this critical piece of bipartisan legislation forward, and the entire Senate for their overwhelming support," said Lisa Gable, CEO of McLean, Virginia-based FARE. "We now look forward to the House of Representatives passing the FASTER Act and sending it on to the president for his signature and enacting it into law."

When a person with an allergy to sesame is exposed to it, proteins in the sesame bind to IgE antibodies made by the person’s immune system. This triggers the person’s immune defenses, leading to reaction symptoms that can range from mild to severe.

The bill would also require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue a report on scientific opportunities in food allergy research that examines prevention, treatment and new cures. In addition, the legislation would put in place a risk-based scientific process and framework for establishing additional allergens covered by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

"With more than 32 million Americans living with food allergies, it's important for us to take targeted steps to address the growing challenges posed by food allergies and to protect those who are vulnerable," said Scott. "Nationwide, caring for children with food allergies costs an average of $25 billion annually and can pose extreme hardships on low- and middle-income families. I'm glad that this bipartisan legislation passed the Senate and hope that we can continue to make progress for Americans affected by this issue."

Noted Gable, "I am delighted that Senators Collins, R-Maine; Gillibrand, D-New York; Tillis, R-North Carolina; Blumenthal, D-Connecticut; Baldwin, D-Wisconsin; Marshall, R-Kansas; and Warnock, D-Georgia, are demonstrating their support for the food allergy community as original co-sponsors of this life-changing legislation."

FARE will continue meeting virtually with members of the House of Representatives to gain support for the FASTER Act and will mobilize advocates to ask that they sign on as co-sponsors.

Gable has indicated that one of the biggest opportunities for the food and beverage industry to serve shoppers in 2021 is to build trust and loyalty with those impacted by food allergies. As she has pointed out, many products that are actually safe to consume are avoided by allergy-aware consumers because the allergen information was unclear due to inconsistent labeling. Gable has advised that manufacturers and retailers must prioritize information sharing and standardize precautionary allergen labeling to reduce customer confusion and build trust.

From March 8 through 10, FARE will virtually host its second annual advocacy event, Courage at Congress 2021: Advocate for a Cure.

FARE aims to transform the future of food allergies through innovative initiatives that will lead to increased awareness, new and improved treatments and prevention strategies, effective policies, and legislation and novel approaches to managing the health issue.

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