Canadian Labeling Debate Ends with a Victorious Beer Industry

The other week, Caty posted here about the Canadian debate over whether or not beer should be labeled as containing gluten.

I side with those of you who commented: better safe than sorry. Even if most of us know that beer is not safe for people with celiac disease – there are always newly diagnosed people who might not be so sure. Why take the risk?

Painted labels like these went a long way towards the beer industry's victory

As for the argument that it’s like requiring ketchup to have a “Contains Tomatoes” warning – well, to-go coffee cups have a “Hot Contents” warning, so why not?

Unfortunately, the powers that be didn’t agree with us. The Canadian beer industry has won the fight – for now.

Ottowa’s Globe and Mail has a solid article on the outcome of the great Candian gluten-free beer-labeling debate.

Essentially, what it boils down to is this: Canada has enacted some really great, really thorough labeling laws. They will benefit not only celiacs, but people who avoid eggs, fish, and other allergens – whether by choice or because they need to for health.

These laws will not extend to the beer industry. Their lobby was able to convince lawmakers that the burden on small brewers would be unreasonable, especially since (and I’m paraphrasing here) ‘people totally know that beer is made from barley, and barley contains gluten’.

Given that people totally know that whiskey is made from wheat, but whiskey is gluten-free, I’d say this argument holds no water (or any other beverage for that matter).

Celiacs aren’t the only ones who are up in arms about this. An article on Yahoo! Canada explains that many alcoholic beverages are filtered or refined via eggs or fish, and these ingredients are also subject to the new labeling laws (or lack thereof). If you’re curious about these hidden ingredients, you can check out, a website that lists vegan-friendly alcohols.

What are your thoughts on Canada’s labeling decision?

4 thoughts on “Canadian Labeling Debate Ends with a Victorious Beer Industry”

  1. I get the argument you’re making, and I even agree with it somewhat, but it really isn’t fair or accurate to just say “why not?” to the idea of tacking on additional labeling regulations. For large brewers, the costs of changing over all packaging can be absorbed as part of marketing, but small brewers already have incredibly onerous cash flow issues, and asking them to change all of the packaging materials could quite literally shut some of them down. For others, it would represent a serious business issue that would result in less distribution, higher prices, or layoffs.

    Too often, debates like this are framed as though it would be free to enact additional protocols, but that’s just not the case for small brewers. Of course, better labeling is important, but changes cost money. Your point about whiskey is well-taken, but are there really people who don’t know that beer has gluten? If so, is this the best way to inform them? And is it worth the loss of real jobs, and if so, how many is it worth?

    In this case, the decision isn’t really a decision; they just said they’d look at other countries’ practices before moving forward and applying it to beer makers, and I’m pretty much always in favor of caution when circumstances allow.

  2. Hi Greg,

    I hear you, and certainly don’t want smaller brewers to suffer unduly (any more so than their counterparts in small-batch bourbon, or candy, or breakfast cereals, who are all making these changes). This debate’s been going on for a few years and I’ve not doubt it will go on for a few more — but it would be nice to see the industry taking steps towards a compromise.

    Updating the reusable bottles all at once may not be feasible, but how about a commitment to update them as they are remade? Or to include the relevant information on the cardboard carriers for the glass bottles and/or the website?

    Small brewers have a chance to define themselves, in opposition to larger labels, as caring citizens. The celiac dollar may still not go to them (it can’t), but the dollars of celiacs’ gluten-tolerant friends, families, bbq- and bar-mates might.

  3. I would say to give them a 2 year time limit to switch over.
    I tried all the GF Beers that I could find and settled on REDBRIDGE even though it didn’t come near to anything that I would describe as a good tasting beer. It has now been reformulated, and not only does it taste worse to me, but the alcohol content has been lowered.

    Greens has three flavors of GF Belgian Ale that way too expensive, and they all taste like yuck to me. I could not finish drinking a bottle. Perhaps those that like Belgian Ale would differ with me.

    Bards Tale is okay, and I can drink it if I can get nothing else.

    New Grist is now my favorite, and usually available in the Chattanooga market. It is made from Sorghum & Rice.

    I am trying another one tonight that has gotten great reviews in this area. It is called Estrella Damm DAURA Premium Quality Lager Beer, and is imported from Spain. CAUTION! It is brewed from barley in a special process that renders the product less than 6ppm Gulten. They claim “All production batches are analzed by the CSIC which certified and guarantees the Glten content below 6ppm.”

    Has anyone else heard of DAURA, or know if it is safe?

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