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Canada. Proposed beer labelling rules met with stout opposition

Industry opposition is brewing over proposed health regulations that would require labels to warn that beer contains barley or wheat - a statement Canadian brewers liken to saying ketchup contains tomatoes.
The new rules are part of a broader set of regulations designed by Health Canada to make it easier for people with allergies to identify ingredients. As many as six per cent of young children and up to four per cent of adults in Canada are believed to be affected by food allergies. In the most extreme cases, people who consume food to which they are allergic can go into shock or even die.
The beer-label warnings are aimed at people with celiac disease, which is characterized by an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, oats and barley that gives bread and pasta dough its sticky texture.
Under the new rules, beer labels must "clearly and prominently" display the warning. The label of a barley-based beer would have to include a warning that says, "Allergy and intolerance information: Contains barley."
"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?'"
But Canadian beer companies question whether the measure is necessary, given that celiacs represent only about one per cent of the Canadian population, and tend to be well informed about the foods they must 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 labelling regulations could be especially costly for relatively small, upscale breweries such as Steam Whistle Brewery and Mill St. Brewery. Both companies sell their beer in vintage-style bottles featuring labels printed on the glass with ceramic paint. Beer stores return the bottles to the companies, which clean and refill them for reuse.
Mill Street estimates the value of its bottles in circulation at $2 million. Disposing of the bottles, which the company would have to do itself, would also cost a significant sum. "If we were to have to change the text on our label, we would likely have to destroy our entire bottle float," said Joel Manning, the company's brewmaster.
In general, Steam Whistle supports more transparency about ingredients within the industry, said spokeswoman Sybil Taylor. Alcoholic beverages aren't required to list their ingredients under federal food-labelling regulations. Nevertheless, Steam Whistle proudly lists its four ingredients: pure spring water, malted barley, hops and yeast.
"We do believe consumers have the right to know," said Taylor. But she said it would be "very onerous" for the company to replace old bottles, which can continue to circulate for years as they are reused.
A review conducted nearly a decade ago for Health Canada estimated the regulations would cost the Canadian food industry $102 million over two years to implement, with ongoing 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 the new rules could generate some cost savings for the health-care system, since people with allergies would require less treatment.
The 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.
The department says the regulations mirror similar changes already imposed in the United States, Europe and Australia and New Zealand.
A spokesman said the final version of the regulations is awaiting publication, after which the food industry will have 18 months to comply.
"The new labelling 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.
28 Jan. 2011

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