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Illinois Lawmaker Wants Clearer Labeling For Sesame

A bowl of sesame seeds
Flickr user: jacqueline CC BY-NC 2.0

Around 150,000 children have an allergy to sesame, a study from Northwestern University shows. A proposal at the Illinois Statehouse could help parents and children avoid foods with the ingredient.

State Rep. Jonathan Carroll’s eight-year-old daughter is among the kids with the food allergy. During a cooking demonstration at school, she started swelling up because of tahini – a sesame-based product. Luckily, she took an antihistamine before the reaction was too bad.

“Sesame is probably her worst one,” he said. “And so foods don’t have sesame labeling on them. The [Food and Drug Administration] doesn’t require it. And it’s becoming a problem.”

The suburban Chicago Democrat says he proposed adding sesame to the ingredients food processors selling products in Illinois must label to protect kids like his daughter.

But Nick George, president of the Midwest Food Processors Association, says most food processors already do that. And he’d prefer nationwide guidelines to state ones.

“It’s hard for a processor to try to comply with a series of laws from individual states,” he said. Still, he said he agrees with the public safety goal.

The Illinois proposal comes as Congress considers a bill that would add sesame to the current list of eight common food allergens, including peanuts and soy, that must be identified in all foods. The FDA took comments last fall about requiring sesame to be labeled as an allergen.

Sesame is the ninth most common food allergen among children, according to the Northwestern study.

Dr. Ruchi Gupta is a professor of pediatrics at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and one of the authors of the study. She says she hopes there is a national guideline soon too.

“It would be great if you could travel from state to state, city to city and the same labeling laws apply,” she said. “In an ideal setting that would be great. I love the fact that Illinois is trying to do it locally as well.”

The Illinois House approved the measure, House Bill 2123, in April, and it now heads to the Senate.

Mary Hansen is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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