by Jim McCarthy
Health and safety of millions of Canadians at stake over a beer?
Canadians should be plenty worried when the deep pockets of the brewing industry put the lives of 2.8 million of us at risk. Food and beverage labelling amendments have taken more than a decade to get to the stage where they are about to become law but now could be killed at the highest level because of the influence of Canada’s beer industry. People with food allergies and celiac disease absolutely have to know what ingredients are added to everything they consume.
The current government promised Canadian consumers more than two years ago to plug the holes in our labeling regulations and invited consumer and patient support groups to a press conference with then-minister Tony Clement to announce the good news. Might that same government now betray its vulnerable citizens? What will it take to make our government and Ottawa lobbyists understand that Canadians have a right to know if their food and drink are safe? How many visits to the ER, how many work days lost, how many deaths will it take? Just a few facts:
- 12% of allergic/gluten reactions need to be treated in emergency rooms
- 14,000 allergy-related visits in the last year required 400 hospital stays
- Emergency and hospital visits cost Canadians over $5 million per year
- The overall household cost of food allergy/gluten reactions is over $5 billion per year
The Canadian Celiac Association (CCA) members are shocked that the beer industry is now criticizing Health Canada’s proposed new labelling of foods and beverages. The beer industry, along with all of Canada’s food industry, has been in consultation with Health Canada for over 10 years about the labelling of allergens in foods. “I have to live with celiac disease every day” says Janet Dalziel, a diagnosed Celiac and CCA President, adding “I expect all the necessary information to be on food and beverage labels to make daily decisions on what is safe to consume”.
A B.C. member wrote, “My daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease at age 2 and a half (4 years ago). All her symptoms disappear when she adheres to her diet. The only time she is ‘glutened’ now is from foods that are not labelled properly or cross-contaminated. This legislation is so important for people like Hannah. Every time she is glutened she loses time in school, I lose time from work, and it costs the health care system in visits and tests.”
The beer industry has had ample time to plan for labelling changes. These new regulations will not require a warning statement, as they have stated, and beer will still retain its exemption from complete ingredient labelling, an exemption that the alcoholic beverage industry has enjoyed for decades. The only information they will be required to include on the beer label is the presence of sulphites (if over 10 ppm) and the gluten sources, wheat, barley and rye.
The Canadian Celiac Association and allergy associations in Canada have been working diligently with Health Canada for over 10 years to have legislation passed that will enable Canadians to see, on each and every label, exactly what allergens are present in foods and beverages. This legislation is far too important for Canadians to let the beer industry put it off the rails. The health and safety of millions of Canadians is at stake.