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    Jefferson Adams

    Canadian Beer Industry Froths Over Allergy Label Rules

    Jefferson Adams
    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    New gluten label rules meet strong opposition by Canadian Beer Industry. Photo: CC-jaygoldman
    Caption: New gluten label rules meet strong opposition by Canadian Beer Industry. Photo: CC-jaygoldman

    Celiac.com 02/03/2011 - Okay, so Canadians take their beer seriously. Beer being one of the few things that might stoke the passions of some Canadians almost as much as, say, hockey.

    So, proposed health regulations that would require beer labels to include a warning that beer is made with barley or wheat have the Canadian beer industry in a froth.

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    Major players in the Canadian brewing industry are gearing up opposition over the proposed health regulations that would require just such labels, warning consumers that beer contains barley or wheat; something Canadian brewers liken to warning that ketchup contains tomatoes.

    The proposed rules are part of a larger set of regulatory changes Health Canada is seeking to make it easier for people with allergies to identify potential allergens in food ingredients.

    Health Canada statistics indicate that up to six per cent of children and up to four per cent of adults in Canada are believed to be affected by food allergies.

    People with serious allergies can go into shock or even die if they consume certain ingredients. Beer-label warnings are aimed especially at people with celiac disease.

    The proposed rules would require beer labels to "clearly and prominently" display a warning that says, "Allergy and intolerance information: Contains wheat."

    Barley-based beer labels would be required to include a warning that says, "Allergy and intolerance information: Contains barley."

    Canadian beer companies say the measure is not necessary, pointing out that people with celiac disease represent only about one per cent of the Canadian population, and tend to be well informed about the foods they should avoid.

    "These people are very well educated," said Andre Fortin, a spokesman for the Brewers Association of Canada, whose members produce 97 per cent of the beer brewed in Canada. "If a Canadian doctor diagnoses you with celiac disease, you're going to know that beer is not ideal for your system."

    The companies also point out small breweries might be hit especially hard by the labeling regulations. A number of breweries such as Steam Whistle Brewery and Mill St. Brewery sell their beer in vintage-style glass bottles with ceramic paint, which beer stores return to the companies, to clean and refill for reuse. Such companies might have to order new bottles to accommodate such regulations. The move could cost them millions of dollars, they say.

    However, for people who support allergy labeling requirements, the matter is serious. "This isn't just a bunch of fusspots," said Gwen Smith, editor of Allergic Living, a magazine and website that has long lobbied for the regulations. "This is about, 'How do I feed my children at dinner safely?' 'How do I feed myself?'"

    In addition to beer, new rules will apply to allergens derived from a wide range of foods, including almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, sesame seeds, eggs, milk, soybeans, crustaceans, shellfish and fish.

    A review conducted nearly a decade ago for Health Canada estimated that implementing the proposed regulations would cost the Canadian food industry $102 million over two years, with annual costs of $13 million. The department expects the changes will cost the Canadian Food Inspection Agency $3 million annually, and Health Canada about $1 million per year.

    Health officials say that the cost of the implementing the proposed rules could be offset by some cost savings for the health-care system, since people with allergies would require less treatment. The department says the regulations are similar to those already in place in the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

    A spokesman said that after publication of the final version of the regulations, the food industry will have 18 months to comply.

    "The new labeling regulations are designed to ensure that consumers have the information they need to make appropriate choices and that this information is provided in a clear and consistent manner," the department said in a statement.

    Read more: Canada.com


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    Thank you Jefferson for your article on this very important issue that affects over 2.8 million Canadians with allergies and celiac disease. For the past 2 weeks the beer industry in Canada has been very vocal in its criticism of Health Canada's proposed new labeling regulations of foods and beverages. These regulations have been in development and consultation with numerous stakeholders since 1993 and were planned to be enacted in early 2011. It would require the major allergens, gluten sources and sulphites to be declared on the ingredient label of foods and beverages. The beer industry is trying to make this a story about beer and barley and derail the government from passing these essential regulations. Individuals with allergies and celiac disease absolutely need to know what ingredients are added to everything they consume for their health and safety.


    I would like to clarify some information in your article and provide further background information:


    1. Health Canada conducted numerous consultations with stakeholders including the food and beverage industry, health professionals, patient and consumer groups before and after the proposed regulations were posted in Part 1 of the Canada Gazette in July 2008. As a result they have made further changes to the regulations. Manufacturers will no longer have to state “Allergy and Intolerance Information: Contains:â€. Instead they will only have to declare the words “Contains:â€



    2.This statement is not quite accurate: “The proposed rules are part of a larger set of regulatory changes Health Canada is seeking to make it easier for people with allergies to identify potential allergens in food ingredientsâ€. Should read that… easier for people with allergies and celiac disease to identify allergens, gluten sources and sulphites in foods and beverages.


    3. The beer, wine and distilled spirit industry in the US have been required to declare sulphites on the label since 1987 and this is one of the proposed changes in Canada. In addition, allergens used in beer manufacturing including fining agents (such as isinglass made from the bladders of fish), milk or eggs would also need to be disclosed.




    4.This statement needs a response : "These people are very well educated," said Andre Fortin, a spokesman for the Brewers Association of Canada, whose members produce 97 per cent of the beer brewed in Canada. "If a Canadian doctor diagnoses you with celiac disease, you're going to know that beer is not ideal for your system." Not everyone knows that beer contains barley or wheat. Most MD's usually do not give advice about the gluten-free diet due to lack of time and expertise about this very complex diet. Also many patients are not referred to a dietitian for comprehensive education about the diet. And not all those with celiac disease belong to a celiac support group. So the declaration of allergens, gluten sources and sulphites on the ingredient label is critical so that consumers can determine whether a product is safe to consume.




    5. The beer industry, along with other alcoholic beverage and food manufacturers, were told by Health Canada back in 2007 to plan for changes to their labels due to the forthcoming proposed regulations. Once these regulations are enacted they still will have 18 months to comply. It is very interesting that the food manufacturers, as well as distilled alcohol and wine industries, have not fought this regulation and face the same requirements to change their labels. Many have already revised their labels in anticipation of the proposed regulations being enacted.


    March 23, 2007 CFIA issues allergen labelling alert to industry www.inspection.gc.ca/english/corpaffr/recarapp/2007/20070323e.shtml


    Reminder notice March 11, 2009 www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/invenq/inform/allerge.shtml


    July 22, 2008 HC strongly urge manufacturers to declare major food allergens, gluten sources and sulphites (over 10ppm) www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/label-etiquet/allergen/guide_ligne_direct_indust-eng.php


    An open letter to Prime Minister Harper was sent by many allergy and celiac groups expressing their concerns about the delay and urging the government to pass this legislation immediately.




    We encourage everyone in Canada to contact the Prime Minister - pm@pm.gc.ca as well as their Member of Parliament requesting that this very important legislation be enacted swiftly without any further delays!

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    Respectfully, I don't understand this...at all. It is the responsibility for celiacs to ensure that everything they consume is gluten free. If you don't know, you don't eat or drink it. I also think that most adult celiacs are fully aware that ANY "regular" beer is not gluten free. Never will be. Traditional beer will never be gluten free, and unless a beer says it is a gluten free brand, it will have gluten. This was one of the first things I learned as a new adult onset celiac, and my MD gave me no information or dietitian consult whatsoever. Someone savvy enough to read labels usually knows how to find books, pamphlets, classes, or websites on gluten free living. To me, this argument is like requiring peanut butter to be labeled as "Containing peanuts....do not consume if you have a peanut allergy". The real problem here is a lack of patient education. Food items which may or may not contain hidden gluten MUST be properly labeled and lack of regulation is a problem right now. An item known to be made directly from a gluten source (I.e. beer) should be part of general celiac education, IMHO. While labeling is never a bad thing, if the beer industry doesn't want to, leave them alone. I feel our concern as celiacs should be food labels (hidden gluten sources) and expanding patient education.

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    Beer labeling is needed. There was so much to remember when I first was diagnosed that it can be a big help to us and those who want to have us over for dinner.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,500 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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