I am obsessed with this food labeling controversy in Canada and I don’t even live there. The story is filled with drama! The big brewing industry pitted against the small advocacy groups for people with food allergies and celiac disease. David Versus Goliath?? The advocacy groups (David) worked for more than a decade to get a food labeling initiative out there requiring all food and beverage companies in Canada list the top food allergens and gluten on their ingredient lists.
Within days of making it official, suddenly the bill sits–because the beer industry (Goliath) says it will cost them millions to comply with adding the new information to bottles…plus they believe that because it’s beer- EVERYONE knows that has gluten in it…so why should it be labeled as such?
I am a newsie at heart — I just gave you the brief background– a few things have happened since Wednesday — so here’s the update that’s getting me a little fired up.
Argument: Allergens and Gluten are OBVIOUS in Beer
According to the allergy and celiac groups in Canada– this issue has their residents up in arms! They say their research shows nearly 70% of Canadians want the beer industry included in the legislation. But I’m guessing that 21% who don’t– include Dr. Chris Fritsch who wrote an article for the Times Colonist in Canada late yesterday and started it with this very sentence:
“At the risk of sounding condescending to celiac sufferers, the plan by Health Canada to require a warning label on beer that it contains barley or wheat is ridiculous.”
This supports what the beer industry has been claiming the last few days. The article concludes:
“Food labels should identify hidden ingredients which may cause problems as, for example, peanuts or preservatives and additives. That beer contains barley is stating the obvious. What next? A label warning that bread contains wheat?”
Well, yeah. That’s how it works. See sample below and more at bottom!
In an open letter to the Canadian Prime Minister from allergen and celiac advocacy groups dated Wednesday, February 2nd, they answered this claim:
“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”– Open Letter to Prime Minister from allergen and celiac advocacy groups
The big question in my mind is –where do you cut it off? If you make an exception for the beer industry, why wouldn’t the baking/bread-making industry be next? Isn’t it obvious “bread contains wheat” as Dr. Fritsch asks? Sure it is, but if you make an exception for one, others will want special treatment as well.
And as for the statements about wheat in bread and that beer containing barley are obvious, YOU may know that wheat is in bread and barley is in beer, and so do I and so does my celiac daughter. But you have no idea how many newly diagnosed folks and other people who feed us (restaurants, relatives, cafeteria workers, well-meaning friends, caregivers) who don’t — no matter how much explanation we give them, we still get questions like: “Why can’t she have pizza?” “I’ll just make her a sandwich”, “What? She can’t eat the bun? Why not?”
So this labeling change won’t only benefit the 2 million Canadians who suffer from food allergies or celiac, it will benefit the millions of others who DON’T, who want to help us with our dietary needs as well.
I am not even a Canadian and I am urging the Health Minister and Prime Minister to get on board, stand up for what is right and enact the labeling law — as-is and in tact. In the US we do have our allergen labeling which helps immensely in understanding what ingredients are “hidden” in your foods. However, right now it doesn’t include gluten…and at this point we don’t know if gluten will ever be considered for mandatory labeling like the new rules in Canada.
For now, see examples below on how the labeling is done in the US, whether it’s bread (pictured above), or even an item with the word Wheat in the title. Cream of Wheat has to say “Contains wheat” right near the ingredient list (which also states it clearly). The final example is exactly why the label is needed — notice the name of the product– and what it contains on the label.