Timeline: it took a long time to get the new label law

It took a long time to get to this week’s announcement on Canada’s new allergy law.  Here’s a timeline:

Petition from Allergy/Asthma Information (AAI) patient group asking Health Canada (HC) for complete allergen labelling on food products.

HC and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada formed a joint committee to develop a science-based list of foods causing severe allergies and sensitivities.

October 15, 1994
Pre-publication of a regulatory proposal in Canada Gazette, Part I, for mandatory label declaration of sulphites present in foods at a level ≥10 ppm.

March 11, 1996
Consultation document sent for comment to stakeholders (food and beverage industry, health professionals, patient & consumer groups) about proposed labelling of allergens and gluten sources.

March 31, 1998
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued an advisory letter to food manufacturers, importers and distributors encouraging voluntary labelling of proposed allergen list.

Common Allergenic Foods and Their Labelling in Canada-A Review, written by Zarkadas, et al. published in the Canadian Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 1999:4:118-141.

A Business Impact Test (BIT) commissioned by HC and CFIA to consult with industry on potential costs of implementing allergen labelling.

February 19, 2004
HC issued letter announcing: “Proposed Regulatory Amendments to Enhance Labelling of Priority Allergens in Foods”, to be published in Canada Gazette, Part 1, in mid-2004 and asking for stakeholder feedback.

September 27, 2004
Letter from HC to stakeholders that fining agents derived from milk, egg and fish used in standardized alcoholic beverages will be exempt from label declaration, but that labelling of priority allergens, gluten and sulphite would apply to beer and wine.

March 23, 2007
CFIA issued allergen labelling alert to industry. http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/corpaffr/recarapp/2007/20070323e.shtml

June 2008
Allergy and celiac organizations support write-in campaign, led by Allergic Living Magazine, urging the federal government to pass food labelling regulations drafted by HC. Over 4000 letters sent to the Prime Minister.

July 22, 2008
HC issued letter urging manufacturers to declare major food allergens, gluten sources and added sulphites ≥10ppm: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/label-etiquet/allergen/guide_ligne_direct_indust-eng.php

July 26, 2008
Amendments to Food and Drug Regulations for allergen, gluten and sulphite labelling, were published in Canada Gazette, Part 1, with a 120 day consultation period.

July 26, 2008
Minister of Health Tony Clement announced: “The Government of Canada is taking action to protect the health and wellbeing of Canadians with food allergies and celiac disease…these new proposed labelling requirements will provide Canadians with the information they need to manage their own allergies, and give parents greater assurance about the food they give their children who may have allergies.”

July-November 2008
Over 140 comments submitted from the food and beverage industry, consumers, patient groups, health professionals, and other governments, for review by HC.

March 11, 2009
CFIA issued reminder notice about allergen labelling. http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/invenq/inform/allerge.shtml

June 2010
Health Canada’s Modifications to Schedule 1220 Regulation Amendments announced: Addition of mustard seed to list of allergens “Allergy and Intolerance Information- Contains:” statement to be changed to “Contains:” (same as USA). Fining agents derived from eggs, fish or milk used in the production of alcoholic beverages will no longer be exempt from labelling Transition period for industry changed from 12 to 18 months

October 2010-February 2011
Public awareness campaign begun by allergy and celiac associations urging government to pass food labeling regulations. To date, over 8500 letters/emails sent to the Prime Minister in support of regulations.

November 2010
Letters sent from allergy groups (Canadian Society of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, Anaphylaxis Canada, AAIA, AQAA, Allergic Living), Canadian Celiac Association and Dietitians of Canada urging Minister of Health Aglukkaq to pass food labelling regulations.

December 16, 2010
Minister of Health Aglukkaq met with Anaphylaxis Canada representatives and provided assurance that regulations would pass in 2011.

January 2011
Minister of Health Aglukkaq issued letters to Anaphylaxis Canada, Canadian Celiac Association and Dietitians of Canada assuring them that regulations are top priority and will be passed in early 2011.

February 1, 2011
Letters from Dietitians of Canada urged the Prime Minister to pass regulations immediately.

February 2, 2011
Open letter to Prime Minister, Minister of Health, Minister of Industry, President of the Treasury Board & Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Minister of Agriculture, urging government to pass regulations immediately. Letter was signed by: Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology Canadian Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Foundation Anaphylaxis Canada Association québécoise des allergies alimentaires Allergy/Asthma Information Association Canadian Celiac Association Fondation québécoise de la maladie coeliaque Allergic Living Magazine
http://www.celiac.ca/press/Group_Letter_to_Prime_Minister_Harper_Feb_2_2011.pdf http://www.anaphylaxis.ca/content/whatsnew/hot_topics.asp

February 3, 2011
Letter sent to the Prime Minister in support of passing food labelling regulations by Canada’s peak body of allergy, the Canadian Society of Allergy & Clinical Immunology: http://www.csaci.ca/index.php?page=13

February 14, 2011
Minister Aglukkaq announces published of labeling law, with the notable exemption for beer.

An open letter to Prime Minister Harper

Logos from the undersigned organizations

February 2, 2011

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A2

Re: Regulatory Project 1220 – Regulations to Enhance the Labelling of Food Allergens, Gluten Sources and Added Sulphites

Dear Prime Minister,

Two and a half years ago, your government announced plans to ensure more than 2 million Canadians with food allergies and celiac disease would finally have the right to know if the food and beverages they consume were safe. Beyond the vital public health imperative to reduce the potential for life-threatening allergic reactions, your government was instilling the principle that all members of the food and beverage industry have a responsibility to declare common allergens.

Many food products currently have ingredient labels that are inaccurate or unclear (e.g. casein means milk). Alcohol beverages have not been required to declare any potential allergens. At the time of the announcement, your then-Health Minister, Tony Clement, said “these new proposed labelling requirements will provide Canadians with the information they need to manage their own allergies”.

After more than a decade of advocating for these changes, your government was the first to act on the concerns of Canadians with food allergies and celiac disease. Our organizations applauded your government’s commitment to public safety then and we are ready to recognize this historic achievement once the proposed regulations are finalized.

Our organizations remain, as we always have, willing to listen. What we are not prepared to do, Prime Minister, is let this once in a generation opportunity be put at risk because of the last minute interventions of a powerful, private, industry lobby.

The proposed regulations are the result of diligent efforts by consumer advocacy groups, medical professionals, industry representatives, policy experts within government and thousands of Canadians who offered their perspectives on various proposals. Significant taxpayer dollars have been spent on this process. Many manufacturers have already spent millions of dollars updating their product labels based on the guidance documents distributed by Health Canada in preparation for the regulatory changes.

The hopes of millions of Canadians whose lives and whose children’s lives depend on clear and accurate labeling have been raised.

Any major changes to the proposed regulations at this stage – after your Minister of Health committed in writing to us that final approval was imminent – would call into question the very legitimacy of the entire eighteen month public and stakeholder consultation process.

Now, a single industry – the brewery industry – is seeking special treatment; treatment afforded to no other food or beverage manufacturer. This is not only unfair, it is unnecessary and it is wrong. Public safety must take precedence over private interest. 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.

The specific argument for an exemption from the regulations for the brewery industry advanced in public reports last week – and in communications with your office – that Canadians do not need to know what is in their beer because everyone already knows, is illogical. How would Canadians know what is in their beer if the industry has never told us? It is not the responsibility of the allergic consumer to guess if there is something in their food or beverage product that may harm them; it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to disclose it! This information is important today, and given brewery industry trends to include various nuts, milk and other allergens in their products, the need will be even greater in the future.

The proposed regulations have widespread public support: a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll reveals close to 70% of Canadians are in favour of them.

All other food and beverage manufacturers have accepted these much needed changes and many are already working on implementation. Similar labelling regulations have already been adopted in many other countries.

Prime Minister, we respect the demands on, and limitations of, government. We have always endeavored to be pragmatic in our approach and consensus-orientated in our advocacy. We remain committed to these ideals as we reach out to both you and the brewery industry.

But Prime Minister, beer companies do not make public policy – you and your government do. We are prepared to meet with you immediately to review the facts and evidence around the issue of food labelling and disclosure of allergens so that these regulations can move quickly towards final approval.

Canadians with food allergies and celiac disease are counting on you to be on their side, just as when you promised these regulations in July, 2008.

Respectfully yours,
Dr. Stuart Carr, President
Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology

Dr. Eric Leith, Chair
Canadian Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Foundation

Laurie Harada, Executive Director
Anaphylaxis Canada

Mary Allen, CEO
Allergy/Asthma Information Association

Diane Dubord, Executive Director
Association québécoise des allergies alimentaires

Jim McCarthy, Executive Director
Canadian Celiac Association

Gwen Smith, Editor
Allergic Living Magazine

Mireille Lafond
Directrice générale
Fondation Québécoise de la Maladie Coeliaque

Beer industry’s lobbying shelves new labeling laws

By David Fowler

According to the Montreal Gazette this morning, the beer lobby has managed to delay the allegen label law we have all been waiting for.  It may be as late as December before Health Canada finally publishes the new rules now 10 years in the making.

The new law would have required companies to identify known allergens, such as gluten, nuts, milk or sulphites.

The CCA appeared on our behalf yesterday to protest the delay but it fell on deaf ears.  This despite the findings of an Angus Reid poll commissioned by the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA) and Anaphylaxis Canada that showed that  67 per cent of Canadians want the labeling rules to apply to all food and beverage companies including beer.

If you have ever wondered why you should join the CCA or renew your membership I can think of no better example.  We need experts who act on our behalf to educate themselves and inform decision makers of our issues.  As evident here, we are competing with powerful moneyed interests of the agri-food business.

Food for thought: I wonder how the beer industry will react in the coming months when media publish reports of severe illness or death that might have been averted if the new label laws had not been delayed?  Will they cover the extra health care costs borne by the health care system and by families that would have not occurred if the law was enacted?

Read the full article in the Montreal Gazette.

Celiac disease profiled on CHBC news

Click to watch Kelowna chapter member Angela Petrie on CHBC news.

Congratulations to our very own Angela Petrie who appeared yesterday on CHBC news.

Angela was interviewed about the this impacts of Celiac Disease on her family’s life and the challenges that a lack of a label law present.

In the interview, Angela effectively captured the emotional frustration that we all feel about the labelling issue.

“It’s asinine.  This is a life and death situation.  Every time someone is glutened, eats shellfish or peanuts, we land up in the hospital. Put the damn ingredients on the label and you save a ton of money!”

If you haven’t already, please contact your MP about the delays in the allergy label law and sign the petition.

Click to watch the item on CHBC news.

Allergy law

By Angela Petrie

Kelowna MP Ron Cannan

I have been following the news with respect to the latest ‘hiccup’ in the decade long quest to introduce legislation making it mandatory for companies to whether the food contains any of the top common allergens.  I have been diligently signing the petitions, emailing my MP, and asking friends/family etc. to do the same.

I was quite surprised to see an excerpt from my email to Ron Cannan quoted in a Press Release issued by the Canadian Celiac Association last week about the latest snag to the Bill – “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.”  Final approval of these amendments remains in jeopardy.

The National Post wrote an article today detailing the breweries side of the story.  It can be found at:  http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/Beer+makers+protest+proposed+allergy+warning+labels/4137753/story.html

Now everyone is obviously allowed to state their opinions, but it was some of the comments written after the article that have me extremely angry:

(1)  ”Firstly, anybody who is not aware that beer contains barley or wheat is too stupid to drink beer. Secondly, “How do I feed my children at dinner safely”? If you are serving your children beer at dinner, you have bigger problems than celiac disease.”

(2)  Better yet, Health Canada officials should have a warning label on their foreheads that states WARNING- THIS CONTAINER IS 100% IDIOT.

(3)  Uh … what else can you make beer with? Frankly, anyone allergic to grains who goes and drinks beer anyway pretty much deserves to get sick.

These comments really irk me.  It is the actions of these breweries, who have been at the negotiating table for over a decade, that put the entire legislation at risk.  This affects so many people, not just celiacs, and ‘big business’ is influencing decisions that have life and death consequences (peanut/shellfish/lactose allergies).

This is my rant for the evening.  If you are concerned about this issue contact your MLA and let them know your opinion.

Angela Petrie is a gluten free consultant.  She can be reached at 250-863-8123 or check out her website at www.glutenfreehelp.ca

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: ron@cannan.ca

Penticton – Stockwell Day: days1@parl.gc.ca

Vernon – Colin Mayes: mayesc@parl.gc.ca

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.