Those living with sesame allergies finally have a reason to celebrate: The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act (S. 578), which requires sesame to be labeled on packaged foods. The bill now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature.
The FASTER Act has been the highest legislative priority for FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), a nongovernmental organization engaged in food allergy advocacy and the largest private funder of food allergy research. FARE estimates that more than 1.5 million Americans are allergic to sesame.
"There is nothing more important to the food allergy community than ensuring that the FASTER Act is put into law," said Lisa Gable, CEO of McLean, Virginia-based FARE. "On behalf of the nearly 1.6 million Americans who are allergic to sesame, I thank Rep. Doris Matsui, D-California, and Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-North Carolina, for championing this critical piece of bipartisan legislation and now look forward to President Biden signing it into law."
The House’s recent action follows the Senate's unanimous passage of the bill on March 3.
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 FASTER Act would require that sesame be labeled as an allergen on packaged foods to make it easily identifiable for shoppers.
Sesame would become the ninth food allergen for which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires plain-language labeling (the other eight allergens are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans). This is the first time since 2006 that a new allergen has been added to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.
"Today is a testament to the hard work of thousands of food allergy advocates who sent emails, made calls, and visited members of Congress and staff to build support and make sesame the ninth allergen to be labeled under law," said Matsui. "The outpouring of support was incredible, and I'd like to thank Lisa Gable and everyone at FARE for their hard work mobilizing this dedicated, resilient community. The FASTER Act will truly make a difference for those living with potentially life-threatening food allergies, and we are proud that it will now be signed into law."
Once the President signs the bill into law, manufacturers will have until Jan. 1, 2023 to comply by ensuring that sesame is always declared on food labels when present.
The FASTER Act also prioritizes food allergy research. It requires 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 establishes a risk-based scientific process and framework for establishing additional allergens covered by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
"Today is a life-changing and life-affirming day for our family and for the families of the nearly 1.6 million Americans allergic to sesame," added Talia Day, a food allergy advocate with two children who are allergic to sesame. "With today's passage and hopefully President Biden's signature, no longer will I have to live in fear that my children could accidentally eat something that would kill them simply because it was not included on a food label. I thank Sens. Scott and Murphy, Reps. Matsui and McHenry, FARE, and the thousands of food allergy advocates who helped make today possible and created a better future for the more than 32 million Americans living with potentially life-threatening food allergies."