Bipartisan food allergy legislation gains ground in Congress, but the fight has only just begun
Bipartisan support does not come easy these days but, on occasion, leaders on Capitol Hill come together to back meaningful legislation that stands to have real impact. This includes H.R. 2117 - the FASTER (Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research) Act. If passed, the FASTER Act will have an undeniably positive impact on the lives of 32 million Americans.
In April, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) introduced the FASTER Act bringing the food allergy epidemic to the forefront of American politics and highlighting the life-threatening challenges being faced by Americans living with food allergies, a group that makes up roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population.
Since July, the FASTER Act has seen a 115 percent increase in congressional support with 44 signed on as co-sponsors. This week, the 24 Democrats and 24 Republican lawmakers who make up the Problem Solvers Caucus—co-chaired by Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Tom Reed (R-N.Y.)— fully endorsed this critical legislation.
The resolve these lawmakers have shown by working together to support the FASTER ACT cannot be understated as FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) and the entire food allergy community continues to work tirelessly to address the food allergy epidemic. But we will not rest until, first, this legislation is passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by the president and, second, researchers are able to use the additional resources this law will provide to finally uncover a cure for food allergies.
Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends another American to the emergency room. A recent FARE-supported study suggests this statistic is only going to get worse—analysis of state data found that medical claims for food-allergy induced anaphylaxis have increased nearly 400 percent nationwide since 2009. The FASTER Act would combat this troubling trend by enabling major research and data collection initiatives that pave the way for new therapies, treatments and, one day, a cure.
FARE has been hard at work over the last year and a half on legislator education, policy refinement and advocacy. The result is legislation that has the opportunity to make a significant positive impact on the lives of all Americans living with food allergies. The introduction of the FASTER Act followed the National Academy of Medicine of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) officially declaring food allergy a critical public safety issue in 2016.
The Act also takes on the critical issue of sesame as an allergen, through more stringent requirements on labeling and disclosure. According to a recent JAMA Network Open study, more than 1.5 million Americans are allergic to sesame, a figure five times higher than the previous estimate. Despite the prevalence of this allergen, it is not currently regulated by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), the primary federal law governing how allergens are represented on packaged foods. Not requiring sesame to be clearly listed on food package labels makes it extremely difficult to determine what products may contain this allergen. The FASTER Act would address this dangerous problem and others, making daily life safer and simpler for those with sesame allergies.
FARE supports the FASTER Act because it puts into action our mission to improve the quality of life and the health of individuals with food allergies and to provide them hope through the promise of new treatments.
While the growing support for this legislation is a step in the right direction, our work here is not done. I encourage all Americans to visit the FARE website, to learn more about the food allergy epidemic that is sweeping our country and to write a letter to their representative to co-sponsor the FASTER Act. Further, I urge our congressional leaders to sign on to support this important legislation if they have not already. Passage of the FASTER Act is no ordinary legislation, it is hope for the entire food allergy community that groundbreaking treatments are out there and, eventually, a cure.
Lisa Gable is the Chief Executive Officer of FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), the world’s leading food allergy advocacy organization and the largest private funder of food allergy research.