Passage of FASTER Act is critical for food allergy community
In the United States, 85 million people are impacted by food allergies or intolerances, of which 32 million have a potentially life-threatening condition. Sadly, they live each day with the fear and anxiety that something they eat could turn their world upside down. Always on alert, they know that consuming the wrong food or ingredient could send them straight to the emergency room or worse, could kill them.
Fortunately, there is new legislation — the Food Allergy, Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act, H.R. 1202/S. 578, which would improve transparency and greatly benefit the food allergy community. This bipartisan legislation would require that sesame — which is commonly used in food for flavoring — be labeled as an allergen on packaged foods. Sesame would become the ninth food allergen for which the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) requires plain-language labeling. The bill would also require the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) 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. With greater transparency in food labeling, this legislation will help relieve fear and anxiety and provide needed relief for the nearly 1.6 million Americans who live with a sesame allergy.
The updated FASTER Act provides a two-year window for industry to comply. I look forward to partnering with the food industry on an implementation plan to align with other changes the industry might be making as they pertain to ingredient disclosures.
This critical legislation would be the latest in the effort to address allergy vulnerabilities. Over the past several decades, awareness of common allergens like peanuts has improved substantially. The Food Allergen Labelling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004 established the labeling of top eight known allergens making it easier for the food allergy community to purchase safe and healthy products. While FALCPA has been critical for those with food allergies, it has not kept pace with science and the prevalence of specific allergies in the American population. FALCPA does not include sesame, the ninth most common food allergy.
The FASTER Act would update FALCPA — and it couldn’t come soon enough for individuals with a sesame allergy. Like peanuts, sesame can be difficult to detect. Bagels or rolls with a sesame seed topping may be easy to spot but facilities making these goods often produce other foods, which can then be contaminated or come into contact with trace amounts of other ingredients, like sesame. And, like peanut oil, sesame oil is widely used in cooking, particularly in Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines. The ubiquity of invisible sesame-based ingredients and contaminants is found in everything from breadcrumbs and margarine to candy, protein bars, and frozen stir-fry meals making it a challenge to avoid. In addition, sesame is often used when a label reads “natural flavors” or “natural spices,” adding another layer of difficulty when consumers review product labels at their local grocery store.
The good news is that the FASTER Act, S. 578, was passed unanimously by the United States Senate on March 3, 2021 after being introduced by Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). The successful vote came just days before FARE hosted its annual Courage at Congress advocacy event in which more than 500 food allergy champions lobbied members of Congress virtually to support the FASTER Act (H.R. 1202). Their commitment and engagement contributed to more co-sponsors of the bill and demonstrated the strong bipartisan support.
The bill has also been introduced in the House. Given the importance of this legislation and its potential to save lives, we urge the House to swiftly pass it.
Lisa Gable is the Chief Executive Officer of FARE, the world’s leading non-governmental organization engaged in food allergy advocacy and the largest private funder of food allergy research.
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