By Anna Hanuska
Every 3 minutes, someone is rushed to the emergency room for a food allergic reaction. The fear of a painful or even fatal reaction from any food interaction is the unfortunate reality for the 85 million Americans with food allergies or intolerances. An often under-recognized disability, life-threatening food allergies affect 32 million Americans. On April 26, President Biden signed into law the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act, which will add sesame to the list of major allergens and expand food allergy research.
The FASTER Act is backed by FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), the top private funder of food allergy research and the leading non-governmental group in food allergy advocacy. Their mission statement is to “improve the quality of life and the health of individuals with food allergies, and to provide them hope through the promise of new treatments,” and legislation like the FASTER Act allow them to continue that quest.
Adding sesame as the ninth major allergen will make food more accessible to the over 1.5 million Americans with a sesame allergy. Being declared a major allergen means that an ingredient needs to be labeled with its regular name (eg. wheat flour instead of just flour) or be clarified in a statement at the bottom. Have you ever seen those statements at the end of an ingredient list that say “Contains Egg”? This kind of legislation is what ensures that those labels exist! These special labels will be extra important for those with sesame allergies, because currently it is often included as “natural flavors,” which is extremely vague and prevents consumers from knowing if a product is potentially dangerous.
In addition to improving labels, the FASTER Act will encourage food allergy research. It will require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue a report on food allergy prevention, treatment, and cures, meaning that the federal government will analyze new scientific opportunities in those areas.
The FASTER Act will truly improve the lives of those with food allergies. It will prevent reactions (and deaths!) by improving the labeling of sesame products, and hopefully lead to life-saving treatments and cures.