In April 2021, the FASTER Act became law. Learn the advances this law puts into place for food allergy management, research, and prevention.
In April of 2021, President Joe Biden signed the FASTER Act into law. This landmark food allergy law recognizes sesame as the ninth top allergen, and requires it to be labeled like the other 8 top allergens. It also encourages research that will improve the quality of life for food allergy families, and that could potentially lower the rates of future food allergies. Today, we’ll cover the details of all the advances the FASTER Act puts into place.
The FASTER Act: What is it?
The FASTER Act is the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research Act. Representative Doris Matsui of California first introduced the FASTER Act in Congress in 2019, and the bill gained bipartisan support. The 2021 version of this bill passed the Senate in March of 2021, and then passed the House of Representatives in April of 2021. In late April of 2021, the bill was signed into law by President Biden.
What does the FASTER Act’s passage mean?
The FASTER Act recognizes sesame as one of the top 9 food allergens in the United States.
This means that foods that contain sesame will need to be clearly labeled under federal law, just like foods with the other 8 top allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, egg, finned fish, shellfish, wheat and soy) must be labeled. These top 9 allergens (including sesame) account for around 90% of food allergic reactions.
Also, the FASTER Act will significantly expand food allergy-related research. It will accelerate the pace of studies related to the prevalence of different food allergies, studies that cover possible methods to treat food allergies, and studies on ways to prevent these allergies before they start.
Now, let’s cover what each of the FASTER Act’s advances means in more detail.
Sesame Is Now The Ninth Top Allergen
Over 1.5 million Americans have a sesame allergy, making it the ninth-most common food allergy in the United States.
Thanks to the FASTER Act, sesame is now officially recognized as the ninth top allergen under law.
The FASTER Act requires foods that contain sesame to be clearly labeled under federal law, just like manufacturers must clearly label foods that contain any of the other top eight allergens.
By January 2023, manufacturers must label sesame-containing foods with the bold warning “Contains: Sesame.” They must also clearly list sesame on ingredient lists whenever a food contains sesame. This is exactly in line with the labeling requirements for foods with any of the other top 8 allergens.
Why does this new labeling requirement make such a huge difference?
People with a sesame allergy could experience an allergic reaction when they eat even a tiny amount of sesame. Like with all food allergies, this allergic reaction could be mild, moderate, or severe. And sometimes, a sesame allergy can cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that requires emergency attention.
In fact, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), around 38% of people with a sesame allergy have experienced at least one severe sesame allergy reaction, and one in three have experienced a sesame allergy reaction that required an Epi-pen.
But before the FASTER Act, federal laws did not require food manufacturers to clearly label products that contain sesame.
Even worse, manufacturers were allowed to include “hidden” sesame in foods with very vague ingredient labelings. For example, sesame could be “hidden” in foods and listed as “natural flavors” or “natural spices,” with no hint that sesame was part of the “flavors” or “spices.”
Because of this, sesame allergy families have often struggled to avoid foods that contain sesame. It was difficult to keep their family member(s) safe from foods that could cause a sesame allergy reaction.
Now, thanks to the FASTER Act, all foods that contain sesame must be clearly labeled by January 2023. Manufacturers will no longer be allowed to “hide” sesame in any foods.
As a result, it will soon be easier to protect family members with sesame allergies from accidentally eating sesame. People with sesame allergy will be much less worried that a food could contain hidden sesame, and that it could threaten their safety.
(Remember: Manufacturers have until January 1, 2023 to comply with the FASTER Act, so not all foods that contain sesame will have the new, clear labeling right away. If you have, or a family member has, a sesame allergy, continue to read labels very carefully!)
Food Allergy Research Will Accelerate
Under the FASTER Act, by October 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must complete a far-reaching report on the latest groundbreaking food allergy research.
This report must include all the latest findings related to food allergy prevalence, management, treatment and prevention.
According to the New York Times, “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.”
After the 2022 report, the HHS must follow up with regular, continued reports on food allergy research. Thus, the FASTER Act will promote vital food allergy research that will improve millions of American food allergy families’ quality of life.
Easier Expansion Of The Top Allergens List
The FASTER Act doesn’t just add sesame to the top allergens list. It also calls for a “regulatory process and framework” to determine whether manufacturers will need to clearly label more allergens on ingredient lists under federal law.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can now add any food to the current list of top food allergens, at any time, if it finds that the food causes a substantial number of people to develop severe allergic reactions. Once the food is added to the list, the FDA can instantly require clear warning labels for that food. The FDA will no longer have to wait for a new law to be passed, like they had to wait for the FASTER Act to become law to add sesame.
In other words, the FASTER Act makes it easier to add any other top allergens to the top 9 list in the future, if allergies to these foods are common and severe enough.
This opens up opportunities to study and add top allergens that other countries require labeling for, like mustard and celery, that aren’t yet covered under U.S. food labeling laws.
Promoting Research On Food Allergy Prevention
The FASTER Act is desperately needed because food allergies are estimated to affect around 32 million Americans, and because food allergies have steadily been on the rise over the past two decades.
The research this new law encourages will not just improve the quality of life for people with existing food allergies.
It may also help prevent future food allergies, and reverse the 20-year rise in food allergies, by bringing findings from groundbreaking new food allergy prevention studies to the forefront.
As Dr. Jonathan Spergel, Head of Allergy at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, explained to the 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 [potentially allergenic] foods lessens the risk of serious allergy.”
“But,” Spergel continued, “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 [and encourage early allergen introduction].”
So, the FASTER Act will potentially lessen the impact of food allergies in the future, by encouraging parents to introduce common allergens into babies’ diets early, and encouraging pediatricians to promote and implement this early introduction of allergens.
That is in addition to the positive changes that the FASTER Act sets in motion to improve the quality of life for people with existing food allergies — adding sesame to the top 9 allergens list, and encouraging research on food allergy prevalence, treatment, and management.
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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.