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Food manufacturers have 18 months to adhere to tighter rules dealing with the labelling of food allergens, but brewers will be exempt from the new regulations, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Monday.

The amended rules target food allergens, gluten sources and sulphites, which will have to be clearly identified on packaging.

The rules will require a listing of allergens in smaller components of the product. For example, if a product includes "spices" the label must list any allergens or glutens or sulphites contained in the spices.

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The new regulations also require manufacturers to use plain and simple language when listing the allergens and gluten sources.

"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," Aglukkak said in a statement.

Brewers exempt

Under the new rules, milk, egg or fish products used to purify wines or spirits must be listed on the label. However, the new regulations will not apply to beer, Aglukkak said.

"We have not required brewers to list the fact that they have barley and rye in their products," Aglukkak said.

"We are working with our international counterparts to determine how best to address this issue to provide consumers with the information they need to make informed choices about their health," she said.

A Health Canada official said efforts are being made to harmonize labelling requirements, whenever possible, between Canada and its key trading partners, namely the United States, the European Union, Australia and New Zealand.

The exemption applies to prepackaged beer, ale, stout, porter and malt liquor, Health Canada said.

LABEL CHANGES

Other changes to labelling regulations include:

  • Mustard seed will be added to the regulatory definition of food allergens.
  • Spelt and kamut will be declared as wheat for allergen labelling purposes.
  • The changes emphasize the use of common names and words. For example, a label could say "soy" or "hydrolyzed vegetable protein (soy)" instead of the more vague "hydrolyzed vegetable protein."

Source: Health Canada

Anaphylaxis Canada, an organization that helps people living with deadly allergies, criticized the exemption, saying it went against the advice of medical experts and consumer and health advocates.

"The federal government can still demonstrate that it is serious about protecting public health by quickly convening a meeting with the brewery industry, patient groups and medical and health policy experts to resolve this outstanding issue," the organization said in a statement.

The Brewers Association of Canada was not immediately available to comment on the exemption.

Health Canada estimates that 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. These people can suffer long-term complications from eating foods that contain gluten.

The revised rules were first introduced in 2008 by then-health minister Tony Clement. Between the two announcements, Health Canada sought input from stakeholders and made changes to the proposed amendments in response.

While manufacturers have 18 months to comply with the new rules, Aglukkaq encouraged the food industry to adopt the measures as soon as possible.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of the story said wine was exempt from labelling rules. In fact, wine is not exempt.
    Feb 14, 2011 1:25 PM ET
With files from The Canadian Press