CSPI Files Sesame Labeling Regulatory Petition

We have 8 planets and 8 top allergens – that’s about to change!  Well, we’re hoping it will change and a fantastic organization called CSPI (the Center for Science in the Public Interest – a Washington, DC based non-profit health advocacy group) has taken a major lead in doing so.  No, Pluto isn’t coming back (at the moment) but CSPI and many other folks would love to see sesame added to FDA labeling requirements for allergens.

Food Label Example from
Food label example from a prior blog post

I’ve discussed labeling legalities on my blog in the past as well as specific examples of labeling woes, but to those that don’t live with a sesame allergy this may not seem like the exciting step it really is.  If we open the door to the “top 8” notion expanding, what else are we capable of changing?  

Background

My dear friend Jessica Almy is not only the founder and editor at Vegbooks.org, a site focusing on kid movies and literature reviews with a compassionate (vegan and vegetarian) lens,  she is Senior Nutrition Policy Counsel with CSPI.  Jessica is one of those people I say I want to be like when I grow up, she has even changed the way I think about food and I thought I was pretty entrenched after 6 years of being a food allergy mama.  Two of the campaigns she has worked on look at the use of icons that appeal to children to sell junk foods/candy (ex: Hello Kitty on just about everything, How to Train Your Dragon with candy “advergames”).  These are pressing issues – just yesterday my husband e-mailed me this article from the New York Times about the ubiquity of Disney’s Frozen to sell products to children.

In January 2013 Jessica connected me with Janna dePorter, a research associate at CSPI, about CSPI’s work on a petition for the FDA to get sesame labeling going.  I was able to reach out to my own networks so that Janna could speak with other great individuals that wrangle sesame allergies in their life.

cspi

The Petition

I’m used to keeping mum on things but here we are in November and I get to finally share that yesterday CSPI’s petition went up!  Read the press release here, and download the pdf of the actual petition here.

From the petition (internal citations omitted):

The sesame seed (Sesamum indicum) is an oilseed crop and edible seed that is used in many food and consumer products.  It is used in an increasing number of foods and might be listed in the ingredient list under an unfamiliar name, such as benne, benne seed, benniseed, gingelly, gingelly oil, gingelly seeds, gomasio, halvah, seed paste, seed oil, sesamol, sesamolina, sesamum indicum, sim sim, tahini, and teel or til.

This is part of the background research that Janna and others were involved with when they reached out to food allergy families – where and how does sesame, one of the top 10 allergens labeled for in Canada already, hide and endanger an at-risk population?  Sesame also hides under terms like “spices” or “natural flavorings” in food.

My statement in support of the petition is featured on page 13 as pictured below, I’ll also paste it in for easier reading but it gives a better idea of why I think this is such an important step:

Wordy as usual!
Wordy as usual!

September 21, 2014
H. W.
Las Vegas, Nevada
My daughter was diagnosed with multiple food allergies shortly after turning 1. She’d had reactions before the confirmation of her condition but it took time to isolate her triggers. She was initially allergic to peanut, tree nut, oat, sesame, corn, milk, egg, wheat, soy, and grape. This made cooking and shopping a challenge and it still is a challenge even though she did narrow her list after outgrowing a few allergies to peanut, tree nut, oat, and sesame. Having a “mainstream” allergy mixed with a “non-top-8” allergy makes a life of constant vigilance that much more challenging. You could say “just avoid the allergens” but when companies don’t have to disclose the presence of sesame or use the commonly understood name of sesame, things get tricky. 5+ years into our allergy journey I know how to pick up a product and hunt for the clues that tell me about the presence of something like sesame but even my food allergy mama sleuthing skills can’t see into the mind of a manufacturer that just lists “spices” as an ingredient. “Tahini,” or ground sesame paste, is another nebulous ingredient that I try to work on with my budding reader but which inhibits the ability of others to assist in keeping her safe. Which is to say that I may know that tahini equals sesame but a teacher or other parent may not know that. It really boils down to disclosure for our family – sesame is a fairly major allergen not being labeled for. No one is asking companies to stop using sesame in their products, just to let the consumer know that it is there. The precedent set by adding to labeling requirements will open the door for more transparency and safety for consumers in the United States. How do I teach my child to be responsible about her allergies if companies that make food products aren’t required to tell her the ingredients of their “spices” or that tahini lurks within. I distinctly remember buying tomato sauce and seeing that one variety had sesame. I was shocked and wondered if the absence of sesame on the other brands’ labels meant it was present and they didn’t feel obligated to tell anyone. The broader issue is not whether I’m going to walk out of the store with tomato sauce, it is that if we’re consenting to have food production so removed from the end user, we should be heard when we ask for assistance knowing whether we can safely provide a food product to our families.

What can you do?

Be sure to share the press release with others to raise awareness of non top 8 allergens.  You can even share your own story of dealing with sesame or another allergen that isn’t mandated for labeling.  More disclosure benefits all of us and may put companies on notice that they should take a step further than what is legally mandated already by FALCPA.

My daughter is reading labels as her reading skills improve, it is exciting and scary for me at the same time because she believes the things she reads (this goes back to the other work CSPI does about children and marketing) and relies on them.  She does know that the next step is calling the company or emailing them to find out about other allergens and manufacturing practices and that will still be our norm, but maybe things can change.

Keep sharing also your own stories about living with food allergies with people in your community.  Just as there are “teaching moments” when you spend time with a child, there are teachable moments in everyday conversation with others.  We may each only be one person but you never know how far a message can spread!

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Edited to add: Here’s a link to Brian Heller’s Change.org petition CSPI’s filing references, if you’d like to show support that way!

Write a Card for Each Day in November #NaNoCaMo

IMG_20141102_080655954
Quote: “Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights the way.” – Author Unknown

In January, fellow VegBooks reviewer and all around awesome gal, Kristin Wald from her blog at mutterschwester.wordpress.com, wrote about the 200th anniversary of Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen’s brilliant work) and opined about real letters, not just thank you notes and birthday cards, but a handwritten missive:

An actual “catching up” or “I have wanted to tell you” letter. And, if it’s your style, add something quirky or fun or surprising to the letter.  Make it your very own craft project. Maybe you’ll even need to buy some crayons. Or cut up a magazine for color.

– from “Pride and Prejudice: Celebrates Its 200th Anniversary on Paper.”

I loved the idea but I do tend to write letters in cards as well as in folded sheets (upon sheets).  I wrote letters and notes and cards but nothing I had the presence of mind to share with Kristin as she asked in her post.  Still, it is funny that her request that we write real letters to one another came in connection with a post about Pride and Prejudice because that (and Jane Austen’s Persuasion) contain my favorite letters in all literature.

Birthday Card
Quote: “It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all” – Laura Ingalls Wilder

Last year my friend Mindy moved very far away to the Dakotas and it reminded me of another author who lived in the Dakota territory, Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I told my friend that I wanted to exchange handwritten letters after she moved.  Yes, we both had email and our respective blogs to follow and comment on, but she was going to live a pioneer life so letters were a must.  When I get her letters, I will sometimes wait a few hours before I open them so I can savor them.  There’s just something special about that.

Birthday Card
Birthday Card

Fast forward to recently, I received some wonderful letters and cards in the mail, including from my friend Annelies Zijderveld(her blog is The Food Poet and she has a cookbook coming out in April 2015!) – who unsuspectingly asked for my address and sent a cheery orange card my way.  I responded in kind with a handwritten card.  Annelies then suggested on Facebook that instead of “NaNoWriMo” (National Novel Writing Month or National November Writing Month, not sure which is the accepted version) we should do “NaNoCaMo” (National November Card Month) and “send a card everyday in November to someone in your Facebook friends list[…].”

(Redacted) Envelopes
(Redacted) Envelopes

I’ve sent four cards so far and will be aiming for 30 total.  For about the cost of a stamp you can make someone smile, so why not?  You could write a note of thanks, a birthday card, a letter, encouragement, you name it.  Here are my first four – I love doing matching envelope doodles so I included those as well.  As it is still early November, there’s still time to message your friends and find out their addresses.  Considering there’s no mail on some days, you won’t be sending a card every day, but it is more fun to space them out through the month, even if you’re not following a rigid schedule.

"Happy Healing Vibes Are Being Sent Your Way" (Interior: Unless You'd Prefer a Happy Healing Hot Fudge Sundae Instead..."
“Happy Healing Vibes Are Being Sent Your Way” (Interior: “Unless You’d Prefer a Happy Healing Hot Fudge Sundae Instead…”

Thank you, Annelies, for the idea!  Anyone else joining in?

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Speaking of VegBooks, here are the latest posts I’ve contributed to. . .

Letters of the West

Tracks Count

Best Books for 5 Year Old Vegetarian and Vegan Kids

Amtrak Quietly Changes Their Unaccompanied Minor Policy

Amtrak has quietly changed their Unaccompanied Minor Policy.  Before and after images are below, revealing that the food allergy related has been removed – the suit filed is ongoing.  A change in the policy as listed online does not change the discrimination that occurred and that was inherent when suit was filed.

To my knowledge, Amtrak still has made no statement about the case, about the policy, or about the change in policy.

August 3, 2014 versus November 3, 2014 (click to enlarge)
August 3, 2014 versus November 3, 2014 (click to enlarge)

Finally, the following note now appears immediately after the changed policy – the requirement of self administration may be an attempt to disclaim any responsibility for Amtrak’s conduct on its trains with regard to food allergic individuals:

Take Precautions for Allergies

Because Amtrak is unable to guarantee a peanut-free or allergen-free trip, we strongly encourage unaccompanied minor passengers to take all necessary medical precautions to prepare for the possibility of exposure. Parents/guardians must ensure that the unaccompanied minor travel with all necessary medications for food allergies (including epinephrine auto-injectors) and be capable of self-administering these medications.

Read more:

My initial post about the policy (8/3/14)

General post about food allergies and travel (8/20/14)

Press release about the suit against Amtrak (10/16/14)