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Food Allergy

Demand for Sesame to Be Added to Top Allergens List Gets Louder

sesameCalls for sesame to be put on the list of top allergens are coming from legislators and the public alike. Photo: Thinkstock

The lobby to require manufacturers to label sesame as a top food allergen in the United States is gaining traction with the release of a new report that details just how difficult it is for consumers with this allergy to find safe grocery products.

On the heels of recent demands by three Senators that the FDA needs to add sesame as a ninth top allergen that must by law be clearly identified in common language on ingredients lists — this report sets out why immediate action is needed to protect between 300,000 and 500,000 Americans who have this allergy.

Prepared by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the report finds that of 19 major manufacturers contacted, only three – Kraft, General Mills, and Mondelez – label sesame on their products on a voluntary basis. The CSPI found that most food makers surveyed, representing hundreds of brands, fell into two camps: those who don’t voluntarily label but will offer information to consumers when contacted, and those who don’t voluntarily label and won’t even respond to consumer requests for sesame information. (The reason often given for the latter was that brand recipes are proprietary.)

The report urges label reform, noting that “sesame-allergic consumers are thus deprived of critical information when they buy groceries or eat outside of the home.” The seed is often listed under unfamiliar names such as “benne,” “teel,” or “tahini.” It can also be hidden in ingredient lists under the terms “natural flavorings,” “seasoning,” or “spices.”

CSPI, which has been working with allergy advocates such as Nevada attorney Homa Woodrum, alongside thousands of parents and leading allergists over the last two years, filed a Citizen Petition in November 2014, requesting that sesame seeds and sesame products be regulated similarly to other major allergens.

In June, three U.S. Senators joined the cause, helping to put pressure on the FDA to revise the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), passed in 2004. In August, the FDA responded to Connecticut Sen. Christopher Murphy’s letter stating that it would “carefully review all comments it has received on the petition and related information.”

For advocates, that means there is more work to be done. “We’re encouraging the FDA to act swiftly because of the public safety and health concerns,” Woodrum says. “The unfortunate thing is that there’s no timeline on their end,” and she adds, “they have taken years to answer other citizen petitions. The hope is that, with public support, they will make sesame labeling a priority.”

Next: Sesame allergy a growing health concern

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