Brewers left out of new allergen labelling rules
More than two years after new food labelling guidelines were first proposed, Health Canada says it is going ahead with new rules that require manufacturers to clearly list potential allergens in their products.
Although new labelling rules will require food manufacturers and importers to clearly indicate the presence of potentially life-threatening allergens, brewers have been granted an exception.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq made the announcement at an Ottawa-area grocery store Monday morning.
"Right now, the only way Canadians suffering from food allergies can protect themselves is to avoid ingredients that they know will make them ill," Aglukkaq said, explaining that the presence of potential allergens may not be otherwise clearly indicated in ingredient lists.
According to current food labelling regulations, ingredients must be listed, but their components do not. That means "seasoning" can appear on a label, without detailing exactly what spices it's made from.
"That is why it is critical that food labels identify all food allergens," the minister said, promising such labels will use "plain and simple language."
Under the new rules, first proposed in July 2008, manufacturers and importers will be required to clearly note the presence of potential allergens on all packaged food labels, as well as wine and vinegar.
The proposed new rules require labels to include the warning statement, "Allergy and Intolerance Information -- Contains:" followed by whatever combination of Health Canada's ten priority allergens including tree nuts, milk, eggs, shellfish, sulphites and gluten sources are present in concentrations over 10 parts per million.
Despite the vigorous protestations of allergy advocates, however, the presence of gluten will not have to be included on beer labels.
Claiming that people with celiac disease are already painfully aware that beer is made with cereal grains such as wheat, rye and barley, brewers had claimed that including those ingredients on their labels would be a waste of time and money.
Many small- and medium-sized breweries, they argued, have opted to use painted labels on their bottles. Because those bottles are re-used up to 20 times, new labelling requirements could represent additional costs of millions of dollars.
But, in an open letter sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper earlier this month, the heads of eight allergy advocacy groups said granting brewers a special exemption would be unfair to the approximately 1 in 133 Canadians who suffer from the gluten-intolerant condition.
"Public safety must take precedence over private interest," they wrote. "Consumers with food allergies and celiac disease have a right to know whether a food or beverage contains a substance which could make them ill, or worse, kill them."
Many manufacturers, they added, are already heavily invested in making the changes proposed in the new guidelines.
In her announcement Monday, Aglukkaq confirmed that beer bottles will not be part of the new labelling rules.
"We have not required brewers to list the fact that they have barley and rye in their products," Aglukkaq said, suggesting that the policy is in line with her government's emphasis on protecting Canadian kids.
"We are working with our international counterparts to determine how best to address this issue to provide consumers with the information they need to make informed choices about their health. At the same time we will still be proceeding with the measures that will protect children and their families."
Once the new regulations go into effect, manufacturers and importers will have up to 18 months to phase in the changes.
It is estimated that food allergies affect between 3 per cent and 4 per cent of Canadian adults, and as many as 6 per cent of children.