Sesame food allergen labeling bill passed by US House of Representatives, heads to President Biden for sign off

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: Getty Images / Traitov
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Traitov

Related tags sesame allergy

The US House of Representatives has voted on and passed a piece of legislation -- the FASTER Act -- that would make sesame the ninth ingredient subject to mandatory allergen labeling in the US. The bill now heads to President Biden to be signed into law.

Passage of the FASTER (Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research) Act by the US House of Representatives follows the Senate's passage of the bill​ on March 3, 2020. 

Under the FASTER Act (H.R. 1202)​​, sesame would be the first ingredient since 2006 to be added to the ‘Big 8’ list of allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy) and subject to "plain-language labeling"​ (i.e.  ‘Contains​…’) on US food labels effective on January 1, 2023.

"This much-needed legislation will benefit 85 million Americans who are affected by food allergies or intolerances, of which 32 million suffer from a potentially life-threatening condition,"​ said FARE.

Sesame is often unclearly labeled as "natural flavors"​ or "natural spices"​ on packaged food and beverages, making it difficult for consumers to identify sesame-free products, ​said FARE. Many consumers are also unaware of other commonly-used sesame-based ingredients, such as ‘tahini', which is made by grinding sesame into a paste.

Under the bill, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would also be required to issue a report 18 months after the bill is enacted that would outline the government’s progress on collecting data on food allergy prevalence and severity; developing effective food allergy diagnostics and therapeutics; and preventing the onset of food allergies.

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.

'Eight years is too long to have waited'

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which had fought for years for the FDA to require labeling for sesame under the agency’s authority to label additional allergens beyond the “major”​ allergens list, celebrates the passage of the bill.

President of CSPI Dr. Peter G. Lurie said, "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. 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.

'Substantial burden of sesame allergy'

FARE estimates that approximately 1.6 million Americans have a sesame allergy, and recent research​ indicates that children are more severely affected. A 2019 study​ also found that among 78, 851 US individuals surveyed, 0.49% reported to have a sesame allergy. Of that group, 37.2% had previously experienced a severe sesame-allergic reaction, according to the study.

"These data indicate a substantial burden of sesame allergy and provide valuable context to physicians and policy makers in their efforts to evaluate and reduce the public health burden of sesame allergy,"​ said researchers.

The bill now heads to US President Biden who has until April 26, 2021, to sign it into law, according to FARE. 

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