Why is sesame still missing from USA labelling legislation?

In 2004, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) stipulated specific labelling requirements for the eight most significant food allergens in the US: milk; soy; gluten; egg; tree nut; peanut; fish; and crustacean shellfish. Since then, sesame has become more prevalent, both as an ingredient in foodstuffs and as an allergen, with more than 300,000 Americans estimated to have allergy to sesame. Despite this, sesame has not been added to FALCPA, and calls for its inclusion are growing increasingly urgent.

Sesame allergy is often severe, and research indicates a greater proportion of sesame-allergic adults report an emergency room visit than adults with any other major food allergy. With consideration of prevalence and severity data, legislation in the European Union, Australia and New Zealand, and Canada already require that packaged food be labelled for sesame.

A paper published last year in the Food and Drug Law journal suggests a sesame allergy consumer class action against a private food company may set a precedent, or at least impel the addition of sesame to the US food allergen labelling legislation.

At the same time, the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is increasing pressure on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide greater protection for those with sesame allergy. In a recent report, they maintain only 14 of 22 major food manufacturing companies in the US routinely declare the presence of sesame when it is present in their products. According to CSPI, the remaining major companies do not label the presence of sesame, instead referring to it in general terms such as ‘spice’ or ‘natural flavouring’.

The report uses testimonials from sesame-allergic people and their families to highlight the danger of these labelling practices and the need to provide greater protection for this population through amendment of the labelling legislation.

CSPI’s report is available at cspinet.org/seedsofchange.