Canada Gets New Beer Label Laws

When you think about beer labels, chances are good that you picture your favorite brew's logo, or maybe you think of the interesting phrases or sayings that some breweries put on the neckbands and on the back labels. Well, for Canadian beer drinkers, things might be changing if the government has anything to say about it (and they usually do). What's on tap for beer lovers in Canada? New beer labeling laws are set to go on the books to help protect drinkers with allergies.

Beer labeling laws are complex and confusing, even for brewers that have been in the business for a long time. In addition to national laws, there's a multitude of others that must be adhered to. In Canada, beer labeling laws might be changing to force breweries to include nutritional information and a list of ingredients used in the beer. However, the laws were held up the day they were set to debut. Brewers requested to be exempted from the new laws (which are actually applied to the entire food and beverage industry). Not surprisingly, consumer advocacy groups immediately protested that the beer industry not be excluded from the labeling laws.

The new laws would force beer makers to declare the presence of any known allergens in the beer, like gluten or sulphites. They would not be forced to disclose the entire list of ingredients used to brew their beverages, though. It would also include ingredients like chocolate, nuts and other ingredients that can cause serious allergic reactions in people. Celiac disease is possibly the most recognized issue here, but there are others, such as nut allergies that can cause anaphylactic shock and even death.

One of the largest concerns driving the new regulations is cross-contamination. For instance, for specialty beers that contain chocolate, the question of whether or not that chocolate was made on the same equipment that handles peanuts and tree nuts is a very important one. Even trace amounts of these substances can be life threatening. 

In a way, the new labeling might even be a boon for specialty beers and craft brewers. Many consumers with allergies avoid beers if they are unsure what ingredients were used. By clearly labeling allergens present in their beers, many brewers might actually be able to increase the number of people willing to give their brews a try. Of course, the cost of changing labels can be considerable, and should not be ignored.

Posted on February 15, 2011 and filed under The Business of Beer.