Sesame Labeling Update – Senators Support CSPI’s Labeling Efforts

I just received the following via CSPI – we met with Senator Murphy and staff from Senator Blumenthal’s office and Senator Markey’s office in May when I was in Washington, D.C.!   Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for problematic labels so I will share one of my finds here before pasting the release I received via CSPI.

Example of labeling as
Example of labeling as “tahini” instead of the allergen “sesame”

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take swift action to require labeling of products that contain sesame or sesame seeds. Currently, sesame is not required to be labeled as an allergen on food products, yet sesame allergies are growing in prevalence. The senators heard directly about the dangers and challenges individuals with sesame allergies face from not having accurate information about what is in their food. The senators wrote a letter to FDA Acting Commissioner Stephen Ostroff requesting that the agency require that sesame – one of the most common allergens in the United States – be listed specifically by name on ingredient lists and that sesame be included in inspections for cross-contact. 

“Given the severity and growing prevalence of sesame allergies, we respectfully ask the FDA to move expeditiously under its current authority to require sesame labeling and inspection of sesame cross-contact to help protect the health and safety of our constituents,” wrote the senators. “Without required uniform labeling of the presence of sesame, consumers with this serious allergy have no way of protecting themselves or their family members from its potentially life-threatening consequences. As Congress recognized when it passed FALCPA, accurate and comprehensive allergen labeling is essential.”

“Currently, the inclusion of sesame as a major allergen in processed food is not explicitly regulated by  FALCPA, making it difficult for those with sesame allergy to determine which products may contain this allergen,”said James R. Baker, Jr., MD, CEO of Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), an organization representing the 15 million Americans with food allergies.  “With a significant documented increase in the prevalence of sesame allergy, which can be life-threatening, we are pleased to see Senator Murphy bring attention to the need and means for improving labeling to help families managing food allergies keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest Chief Regulatory Affairs Attorney Laura MacCleery said, “Several hundred thousand Americans are allergic to sesame, and their allergy is no less serious and no less life-threatening than that of those allergic to peanuts, shellfish, or other common allergens. The Food and Drug Administration could easily protect these consumers by including sesame among the so-called Big 8 food allergens for purposes of labeling and education.  We’re grateful to Senator Murphy, Senator Blumenthal, Senator Markey, and others who similarly wish the FDA would follow the lead of Canada, the European Union, Australia, and other nations that require labeling of sesame and sesame-based ingredients.”

The full text of the letter is below:

The Honorable Stephen Ostroff

Acting Commissioner

Food and Drug Administration

10903 New Hampshire Avenue

Silver Spring, MD 20993

Dear Commissioner Ostroff:

We write to urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take swift action to require sesame seeds and sesame products to be labeled and regulated in a manner similar to the rules that apply to the eight current labeled major allergens.

Sesame is now one of the most prevalent, and most dangerous, food allergies in the United States.  When Congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) in 2004 to require the labeling and regulation of allergens then considered the “Big 8” (milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy), it was thought that these categories covered around 90% of all allergies in the United States. However, if FALCPA were enacted today, sesame would be included on this list. Allergists consider sesame to be an emerging allergy concern, affecting an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people in the United States.  Robert Wood, the director of the division of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, notes that sesame allergies “have probably increased more than any other type of food allergy over the past 10 to 20 years” and are “now clearly one of the six or seven most common food allergies in the U.S.”  In addition to its mounting prevalence, sesame poses a particular danger due to the severity of the allergy: for some, sesame exposure can trigger potentially-fatal anaphylaxis.

A recent Citizen Petition—FDA-2014-P-2035, filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and a number of prominent allergists and concerned parents—outlines the need for action in this area. We support the petition’s request that the FDA require sesame to be listed specifically by name on ingredient lists of foods and be made part of inspections for cross-contact, to better protect our many constituents who suffer from such allergies.

FDA has the authority to regulate sesame in the same manner as other major allergens under FALCPA.  Under 21 U.S.C. § 343(x), the Secretary may promulgate regulations requiring disclosure of allergens other than the allergens listed in the original statute, and has already done so in the case of the coloring carmine/cochineal. This provision also gives the FDA the authority to determine the manner and extent of such disclosure.

As Congress recognized when it passed FALCPA, accurate and comprehensive allergen labeling is essential to enable allergy sufferers to avoid specific ingredients and potentially fatal reactions.  This need is especially critical for sesame, which is often listed under unfamiliar names, like “tahini” and “gingelly,” and is sometimes not identified at all as a component of “spices” or “natural flavors.”  Without required uniform labeling of the presence of sesame, consumers with sesame allergies, and the families of children with this serious allergy, have no way of knowing whether sesame is present in the foods they are eating, and cannot protect themselves or their family members from its potentially life-threatening consequences.

FALCPA was enacted to improve allergen labeling so that consumers can identify the presence of an ingredient they must avoid.  Given the severity and growing prevalence of sesame allergies, we respectfully ask the FDA to move expeditiously under its current authority to require sesame labeling and inspection of sesame cross-contact to help protect the health and safety of our constituents.

Sincerely,

Christopher S. Murphy

United States Senator

Richard Blumenthal

United States Senator

Edward J. Markey

United States Senator

____

Update: 6/26 – here are links to coverage about the above:

http://thehill.com/regulation/246026-senate-dems-urge-fda-to-make-labeling-of-sesame-products-mandatory

http://www.murphy.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/murphy-blumenthal-call-on-fda-to-label-and-regulate-all-sesame-products

snacksafely.com/2015/06/senate-dems-to-fda-label-sesame-as-an-allergen/

6 thoughts on “Sesame Labeling Update – Senators Support CSPI’s Labeling Efforts

    1. Thank you for the encouragement, Caroline! I’m just sharing the work of great folks but it is certainly exciting to see all the Senators (and offices) that we visited with last month on board to support CSPI and food allergic families!

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