President Biden Signs FASTER Act Into Law: Sesame Included as Ninth Top Allergen
On April 23, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the FASTER Act (Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research Act) into law. Learn what the FASTER Act is, and what it means for the millions of Americans who are affected by food allergies.
On April 23, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the FASTER Act (Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research Act) into law. This groundbreaking new food allergy law will vastly improve the safety and quality of life for the millions of Americans living with food allergies. It sharply accelerates the pace of food allergy research, and recognizes sesame as the ninth top food allergen. Today, we’ll cover what the FASTER Act is, and exactly what it means for food allergy research and management advances.
"President Biden on Friday signed into law a new measure that designates sesame as the ninth major food allergy" - The Wall Street Journal
What is the FASTER Act?
The FASTER Act (Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research Act) was first introduced in Congress in 2019 by Representative Doris Matsui of California. It gained bipartisan support, as well as the support of a panel of medical experts. It passed the Senate in March 2021 and the House of Representatives in April 2021, and was then signed into law by President Biden in late April 2021.
The FASTER Act will significantly expand food allergy-related research. It will accelerate the pace of studies related to food allergy prevalence, as well as possible food allergy treatment options.
Notably, the FASTER Act also recognizes sesame as one of the top nine food allergens in the United States, so foods containing sesame will be subject to the same labeling laws as the other 8 top allergens (cow’s milk, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, wheat, soy, finned fish and shellfish). Together, the top 9 allergens (including sesame) are responsible for around 90% of food allergy reactions.
Here are more details about the advances that the FASTER Act has made law.
Sesame Recognized As The Ninth Top Allergen
“Sesame becomes the ninth food to be considered a ‘major allergen.’” - The New York Times
The FASTER Act recognizes sesame as the ninth top allergen. It requires foods containing sesame to be clearly labeled under federal law, just like foods with the other top eight allergens must be clearly labeled with the allergens they contain.
If people with a sesame allergy eat even a small amount of sesame, this could cause an allergic reaction. And unfortunately, childhood sesame allergies aren’t outgrown very often.
Like all food allergies, a sesame allergy can cause reactions ranging from mild to severe, and can sometimes cause a life-threatening allergic reaction (known as anaphylaxis). In fact, nearly one in four people with sesame allergies reported that they experienced a severe sesame allergy reaction.
But before the FASTER Act, food manufacturers were not required to clearly label products that contain sesame, like they must label foods with the other eight top allergens. As a result, it has often been difficult for sesame allergy families to avoid sesame, and protect their family members from foods that could cause an allergic reaction. Sometimes, sesame would be hidden in foods under a very vague labeling, such as “natural flavors” or “natural spices.”
Now, thanks to the FASTER Act, all foods that contain sesame must be clearly labeled by January 2023. Manufacturers must label these foods with the bold warning “Contains: Sesame,” and sesame must be listed clearly as an ingredient. This mirrors the required labeling for foods with any of the other top eight allergens.
(Keep in mind that manufacturers have until January 1, 2023 to comply with the new law, so not all sesame-containing foods will have the new labeling right away. Continue to stay vigilant, and read labels carefully!)
It will soon be easier for sesame allergy families to keep their family member(s) safe, since sesame will no longer be “hidden” in any foods. People with sesame allergy will be much less worried about accidentally eating foods that contain hidden sesame, and that could threaten their safety.
As Talia Day, mother of two children with sesame allergies and FASTER Act advocate, shared in a FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) press release, “Today is a wonderful day for food allergy families like mine. With President Biden signing the FASTER Act into law, 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.”
Standardized Process For Adding Top Allergens
The FASTER Act also makes it easier to add other top allergens to the top 9 list in the future, if allergies to these foods are common enough. It calls for a “regulatory process and framework” to determine whether other allergens will need to be clearly labeled on ingredient lists under federal law.
If the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determines that a food causes a significant number of people to develop severe allergic reactions, they can add it to the current list of top food allergens at any time, and require clear warning labels for that food. They don’t have to wait for a new law to be passed, like they had to wait for the FASTER Act to be signed into law to add sesame.
This opens the door to possibly study and add top allergens covered under other countries’ allergen labeling laws that the U.S. does not yet require labeling for, including mustard, celery, and a legume called lupin.
As Dr. Ruchi S. Gupta, professor of pediatrics at Northwestern Medicine and author of numerous leading food allergy prevalence studies, told the New York Times, “We need to do a deeper dive into what is 10, 11, 12 on the list of top allergens, and what is potentially on the horizon to be a bigger problem than it is now.”
Rapid Advances In Food Allergy Research
In addition, the FASTER Act will require the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to complete an extensive report on the latest promising food allergy research within the next 18 months (by approximately October 2022).
As the New York Times explains, “The report should document any work the federal government does related to a spectrum of food allergy issues, including research into the prevalence of food allergies, treatment options and possible prevention methods.”
This will be followed by required regular reports on food allergy research by the HHS. So, the FASTER Act will encourage and promote groundbreaking food allergy research that improves the quality of life for the millions of American food allergy families.
Possible Reversal Of A Troubling Trend
The FASTER Act is so vital because food allergies affect an estimated 32 million Americans, and because food allergy prevalence has steadily risen over the past twenty years. Research encouraged by this new law won’t just improve the quality of life for people with existing food allergies --- it may help reverse this troubling trend of the rise in food allergies, by promoting findings from new studies on early allergen introduction.
As Dr. Jonathan Spergel, Head of Allergy at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told the Washington Post: “There are several strong theories to explain the uptick [in food allergies], but one stands out: In 2000, a small study suggested that if parents delayed the introduction of potentially allergenic foods, kids were less likely to develop those allergies. The guidance was wrong, with subsequent studies revealing the exact opposite: Early, careful introduction of these foods lessens the risk of serious allergy. But the damage was done...even in the face of strong new evidence, a 2020 survey of pediatricians found that only 29 percent were implementing early introduction of allergens. The new law attempts to change that.”
“Early, careful introduction of these [potentially allergenic] foods lessens the risk of serious allergy.” - Dr. Jonathan Spergel
The passing of the FASTER Act sets many steps in motion that will improve the quality of life for the millions of Americans living with food allergies --- and that will possibly lessen the impact of these life-threatening allergies on future generations. It is a meaningful victory for the food allergy community and beyond.
We are thankful for the tireless advocacy of leaders at FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), who were instrumental in mobilizing the food allergy community to fight for the passing of the FASTER Act.
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Jessica Huhn is a Content Writer for Ready, Set, Food!