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Brewers get exemption from allergy label rules Add to ...

The federal government is demanding that Canada's food and beverage manufacturers provide labels that do not mask ingredients which threaten the health - and occasionally the lives - of people suffering from food allergies.

But Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who introduced the new packaging requirements Monday, gave brewers a temporary exemption from the regulations, saying she will first consult with other countries which have introduced similar labelling rules. The decision pleased the beer-makers, who say some smaller breweries would have had to spend millions of dollars to replace their painted bottles to conform with the new rules. They also say every beer drinker knows what's in beer.

Prior to Ms. Aglukkaq's announcement, food allergy sufferers were afraid that the objections of the beer industry would derail the entire relabelling initiative, which had been many years in the making.

"Our intent was never to hold up the entire regulations," said André Fortin, a spokesman for the Brewers Association of Canada. "So we're happy that Health Canada decided to go ahead with them. We're also pleased with the decision to take into account the particular situation for beer."

The beer labels are of particular interest to people suffering from celiac disease, whose intestines cannot handle the gluten contained in such grains as barley, wheat and rye.

"We are very disappointed by the last-minute decision of the government to pull the regulations for the beer," said Laurie Harada of Anaphylaxis Canada, which represents people with food allergies.

The government should move quickly to figure out what it will do about beer labels, she said. "They can't give us any idea of the process or the dates right now, so I would still be asking the question: How are you going to deal with this?"

But Ms. Harada said she is extremely pleased that the government will proceed with the bulk of the new regulations. "It will certainly help to protect a number of people," she said.

Allergy sufferers say existing food-labelling requirements often leave them puzzled about what is in the products on their grocery-store shelves.

Margarine may contain milk that is not indicated on package labels. Egg can be listed as albumin. Seasonings may mean sesame seeds. And there are many other ways that potential allergens can hide.

The revised regulations will require that manufacturers clearly identify food allergens, gluten sources and sulphites either in the list of ingredients or at the end of the list of ingredients.

In addition, an allergen or gluten source must be written in commonly used words such as milk or wheat.

It is estimated that 5 to 6 per cent of young children and 3 to 4 per cent of adults suffer from food allergies. Nearly 1 per cent of the population is affected by celiac disease; for them, the consumption of foods containing gluten can lead to long-term complications.

Because of the complexity of the changes and the shelf life of foods, the food industry has been given until Aug. 4, 2012 to comply with the new regulations.

Beer contains wheat or barley, which inflames the conditions of celiac disease. The beer-makers argue some of the smaller breweries have spent millions of dollars on painted bottles that would have to be replaced if they must be updated to include an ingredients list. They also say every beer drinker knows what is in beer.

But the societies that represent celiac sufferers and people with food allergies are disappointed by the exemption and say all food and beverages should have proper labels.

The dispute had threatened to kill the whole re-labelling initiative, which has been many years in the works. The government instead has opted to proceed with most of the changes to make existing labels more clear and deal with the beer industry at a later date.

Currently, margarine may contain milk that is not indicated. Egg can be listed as albumin. Seasonings may mean sesame seeds. And there are many other ways that potential allergens can hide.

The revised regulations will require that manufacturers clearly identify food allergens, gluten sources, and sulphites either in the list of ingredients or at the end of the list of ingredients.

In addition, an allergen or gluten source must be written in commonly used words such as milk or wheat.

It is estimated that about 5 per cent to 6 per cent of young children and 3 per cent to 4 per cent of adults suffer from food allergies. Nearly 1 per cent of the population is affected by celiac disease, for whom the consumption of foods containing gluten can lead to long-term complications.

Because of the complexity of the changes and the shelf life of foods, industry has been given 18 months to implement the new labelling regulations. The coming-into-force date is set for August 4, 2012.

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