Don’t listen to bartenders – barley beer isn’t safe

by CCA National Office

For many people, bartenders have become experts about gluten in beer. After all, they are educated by brewery representatives who have a job selling beer, not those dietitians and doctors who seem to just make your life miserable and unfulfilling! In the past month I have been told by CCA members and other celiacs that at least 12 different mainstream beers are “OK for people with celiac disease”.

Despite the obvious appeal of listening to those bartenders, there are a few problems with their analysis:

  1. beer-not-gluten-freeSymptoms are not a good indicator of the absence of gluten in a product.
  2. Beer is not distilled so the proteins are not removed from the grain ingredients – including malted barley.
  3. We do not have verified technology to measure the amount of gluten in beer. That means that a gluten test might give you a number but we have no way to know if that number is correct, or if it might be significantly underestimating the amount of gluten in the beer.
  4. As per Health Canada, any product containing barley or malt directly added is not allowed to be called “gluten free”.

Gluten from barley is the hardest type of gluten to detect on a test. In beer, where the barley proteins are broken into pieces, detecting the “bad” part of the proteins is even harder. The conventional tests will give you a number for the amount of gluten in a beer sample, but there is no way to verify that number. Studies that use mass spectroscopy to look at the broken pieces of barley proteins have found gluten in all barley-based beers. This research article gives details if you would like to read more.

Some manufacturers use an enzyme that is supposed to break the gluten sequence in beer into pieces so that it won’t trigger a gluten reaction. This treated beer that is “Crafted to remove gluten” and sold in Canada must carry a statement that indicates that there is no way to accurately measure the amount of gluten in beer. I saw this message on a bottle of Daura Damm at the LCBO store yesterday. It was on the label around the neck of the bottle in very tiny print.

End result, the CCA does NOT consider beer made with gluten as safe for people with celiac disease, treated to remove the gluten or not. Beer is one of those things that does not meet the gluten-free criteria, just like wheat-based bread isn’t safe. There are alternatives that are not really the same (just like with bread). You either get used to them or you stop eating bread. The same rule applies for beer.

Barley-based beer NOT for celiacs

By Mark Johnson, CCA Ottawa Chapter

mark-johnsonWhen people are diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, one of the most frequent concerns is no longer being able to drink beer. Myself, I’m more of a rum and coke kind of guy but I suspect I’m in the minority. The good news is that, with gluten-free being so popular and well known nowadays, there are a number of beers that those with celiac disease can enjoy, ranging from lighter beers to the strong ones that many people swear by.

One of the more frequent objections I’ve heard is that gluten-free beer tastes too different. Particularly for those who like “heartier” beers, some of the gluten-free alternatives are too light-tasting. In exploiting this trend, some companies have been tinkering in the laboratory to develop beers that use barley and hops but are still able to be called gluten free.

You may have seen new varieties at the liquor store. In addition to the classics like La Messagère, New Grist, Bard’s, Glutenberg and Nickel Brook, we’re also seeing some barley-based “gluten-free” beers popping up, such as Omission, Estrella, Brunehaut and Mongozo. While relatively rare here, such beers are more commonly found in Europe.

Let us be clear: the CCA does not recommend that Canadians with celiac disease or gluten intolerance drink any barley-based beers. This is regardless of whatever enzymes might be used to supposedly break down gluten. Yes, the companies may wave tests around showing that samples came up at less than 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten, but what they’re usually less interested in discussing is the scientific accuracy of such tests on a liquid product.

Using currently available testing methods, some beers report a number less than 20 ppm, but there is significant evidence that suggests the tests do not detect all the gluten in the beer. Until we have a test that we are confident is detecting all of the toxic proteins in the beer, we recommend that people with celiac disease not consume it.

In the United States, beers treated to remove barley protein must carry a warning that tells consumers that: (1) the product was made from a grain that contains gluten; (2) there is currently no valid test to verify the gluten content of fermented products; and (3) the finished product may contain gluten. Health Canada has indicated that beer carrying these qualifiers could be sold in Canada, but not with a “gluten-free” claim.

Be aware, and drink responsibly!

Mark Johnson

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Low Gluten Beer

operatorCourtesy National Newsletter

Members have asked a number of questions recently about low gluten beer. A number of vendors offer these beers that are made with malt but are treated to reduce the gluten content using enzymes that break down the barley proteins into small pieces. Various companies claim that their beer tests to less than 20 ppm, less than 10 ppm, and less than 3 ppm gluten. Is it really safe for someone with celiac disease to drink?

The CCA does not have a formal position on these beers, but we do have concerns about the accuracy of the test results. Hordeins, the gluten proteins in barley, are complicated to detect, especially when these proteins are partially hydrolyzed or broken down into pieces as they are in beer.

The most common test for hordeins (the R5 Sandwich ELISA) looks for two specific sites on the protein. When many of the proteins are broken, the test may miss finding the hordein if the protein breaks near the binding site [Note 1]. Some of the fragments of proteins may still cause damage in someone with celiac disease.

Researchers in Australia [Note 2] tested a number of low-gluten beers using a different tool, mass spectrometry, and they found significant amounts of gluten protein and gluten protein fragments in all of the low gluten beers they tested. With a sample size of 60 beers selected from the international market, underestimating the amount of gluten in low-gluten beer is probably a significant issue worldwide.

Good news? The researchers did not find gluten in any of the gluten-free beers made without barley malt. Cheers!

Note 1: For more information about testing for barley, check

Note 2: Colgrave ML, Goswami H, Howitt CA, Tanner GJ. What is in a beer? Proteomic characterization and relative quantification of hordein (gluten) in beer. J Proteome Research. October 2011. The study is available at:

Perhaps there will be beer labeling?

By David Fowler

Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq

Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq

Earlier in the Spring the federal government went ahead with the new ingredient labeling law with the noticeable exception of beer.  Those in the allergic community cheered the changes which would see it mandatory for food products to be labeled with the most common allergens, including gluten, by August 2012.

Despite 10 years in the making of the regulation, the beer industry started a last minute lobby against the regulation which threatened to derail the entire effort.  To its credit, the government went ahead with the regulation, but provided an exemption for beer.

There may now be some hope for allergic beer consumers.  The attached letter from Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq suggests that the government is in consultation with the beer industry and that the final regulations will be well received by Canadians.

Let’s hope that’s the case so that beer lovers too can know exactly what is in their beer.

Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq Letter to David Fowler on beer labeling (PDF)

Food labeling law moves ahead but beer gets an exemption

The proposed allergen labeling law is finally going ahead. Industry now has 18 months to implement new allergen labeling regulations which require food allergen or gluten sources to be written in a uniform way.

The new regulations were set to be announced earlier this month but a last minute attempt by the beer industry for an exemption led to the cancellation of the announcement. Advocates of the new law feared that reopening the discussion for a  beer exemption would set-back the new regulations by a year or more.  Advocacy groups have been asking for the new regulations for a decade.

But it’s not all good news for 1 in 20 who suffer from food allergies.  Beer companies have won their special exemption, at least for now. They successfully argued that it is obvious that beer has gluten in it and too costly to change it’s labels.  Their did not address the argument that other allergens such as sulphites, nuts, and chocolate are increasingly used in their specialty beer products. It also flies in the face of an Angus Reid poll by Anaphylaxis Canada and the Canadian Celiac Association that showed 67 per cent of Canadians wanted the proposed labelling rules to apply to all food and beverage companies.

Wine and spirits are not covered by the exemption.

According to the Globe and Mail, Anaphylaxis Canada and the Canadian Celiac Association were not invited to the government announcement today.

Read the full Health Canada press release below…

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq

Today, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health, and Royal Galipeau, Member of Parliament for Ottawa-Orleans, announced regulations to strengthen Canada’s labelling of food allergens and gluten sources. This means that Canadians with food allergies, sensitivities and celiac disease will soon be able to make more informed choices about the foods they buy. The Ministers also unveiled what the food label will now look like.

“Our Government is committed to protecting children and families from dangerous products, and this is clear from the measures we have taken in our new Consumer Product Safety Act,” said Minister Aglukkaq. “All parents want to have confidence in the food they are serving their families, and these changes to food labels will make it easier for parents of children with food allergies to identify potentially harmful, if not fatal, ingredients in foods.”

It is estimated that approximately five to six per cent of young children and three to four per cent of adults suffer from food allergies. Nearly one per cent of the population is affected by celiac disease, for whom the consumption of foods containing gluten can lead to long term complications.

The new regulations will require additional labelling and strengthen the labelling requirements to require clearer language and the declaration of otherwise “hidden” allergens, gluten sources, and sulphites.

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

Health Canada and the CFIA will continue to work with industry members to ensure that there is a smooth labelling implementation period for foods sold in Canada. Health Canada will continue to update Canadians on the progress of this file as the coming into force date approaches.

Please visit Health Canada’s website for details on the final regulatory amendments on labelling regulations for food allergens, gluten sources and added sulphites (

You can also watch our video on Allergen Labelling (

To subscribe to receive email notifications for allergy alerts, visit the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s recall page (

For more information on food allergies, food intolerances, and celiac disease, please visit:

Health Canada’s Food Allergy and Intolerances Page
Health Canada’s Allergen Labelling Page
Health Canada’s Celiac Disease Page
CFIA’s Food Allergens Page

Urgent Call – Write your MP to save the proposed labelling law

By David Fowler

David Fowler

If you are like me, you are shocked that after 10 years in the making of the new label law, the beer lobby, at the 11th hour, is complaining about the proposed new regulations.  Their complaints threaten to throw off  labeling legislation which we understood to be imminent.

Honestly, how big of a deal is it to phase in new labels on your products when it means so much to others health?  Sheesh!  They could have started years ago on their own initiative to better serve their customers.

For more, check out this article in Wednesday’s Vancouver Sun:

Feds may yield to pressure to scale back beer labelling rules

I urge you to take the time to contact your local Member of Parliament about this.  Here are some email addresses for you.  Just click on one and start typing!

Kelowna – Ron Cannan:

Penticton – Stockwell Day:

Vernon – Colin Mayes:

Below is a well crafted letter sent by our very own Angela Petrie to give you some inspiration.

Hi Ron and Stockwell,

My family lives in Kelowna and we are therefore your constituents.  Ron, we corresponded before about the importance of passing this allergy law and Stockwell, I started drafting an email to you but never got around to finishing it.

Attached is a press release from the Canadian Celiac Association.  I am the “BC member” that they are quoting in the Release.

My daughter Hannah is 6 years old.  Eating gluten-free is Hannah’s ‘medicine’.  As long as she adheres to the diet she is a happy, healthy, thriving child.  I would classify myself as an expert (not by choice) in reading labels and making sure that there is no gluten around her.  Hannah has her own Tupperware containers, toaster, even the dishwasher soap I use is gluten-free!  If she is exposed to so much as a crumb of gluten we have weeks of hell that follow.  It starts with digestive upset and vomiting.  She curls up in the fetal position for days.  Once that passes the behavior issues and insomnia arrive.  How long that lasts varies from 1-3 weeks – she misses school, has huge temper tantrums and becomes an insomniac.  She misses school, I miss work, she gets down about being a celiac.  Following this diet is extremely expensive.  I cannot afford to miss work and I worry about Hannah missing big chunks of school time when she gets older or on a semester system.

The only time Hannah is ‘glutened’ now is through hidden sources (not clearly stated on a label) or cross-contamination.

This law has been in the works for 10 years.  To think that a beer company can put the lives of so many at risk is ludicrous.  This is just the life of a celiac.  What about those who have  anaphylaxis to other common food allergies.  Food allergies cost the government a lot of money in lost taxes and increased doctor visits/hospital stays.

This law is too important to not pass because of the interests of ‘big business’.  Food allergies are ‘big business’ in so many other ways – and can have life and death consequences.  Please contact me and let me know your stance on this issue and how you will be voting on this issue.

Stockwell, it is my understanding that this was delayed at the ‘treasurer’ level in early January.  This email, in part, is what I was going to put forth to you!

I look forward to hearing your responses to this.

Angela Petrie

If you think I’m full of hot air, please tell me so using  the comment section below.