Ontario craft beverage manufacturer pushes for advisory labels on alcohol

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Ontario craft beverage manufacturer pushes for labels on alcohol
WATCH ABOVE: Wilda in Prince Edward County is proactively proposing consumer advisory labels on its alcohol beverages that includes the units of alcohol, ingredients and its carbon footprint. Erica Vella has more – Jan 30, 2023

A craft beverage company based in Prince Edward County, Ont., is looking at taking a proactive approach to labelling cans of its alcoholic beverages in an attempt to promote transparency within the industry.

Wilda Farmhouse is located on approximately 15 acres of land and the company produces craft beverages that are made with fermented honey and other juices.

“We have made a line of bee-friendly natural spritzers made from fermented honey and freshly squeezed juice,” said co-founder Mike Mills.

Ben Leszcz, who is also a co-founder of Wilda, said they are proposing a consumer advisory label with three pieces of information: units of alcohol, ingredients and the product’s carbon footprint.

Read more: New alcohol guidance — When are provinces planning to adopt measures?

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“We have a responsibility as producers of an alcoholic beverage to inform our consumers and to be transparent about what we are producing,” said Leszcz.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) released new guidance that said drinking more than two standard drinks — an equivalent of 13.45 grams of pure alcohol – at a time is associated with increased risks.

The CCSA report is an update to Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines that were published in 2011.

The harm to yourself and others is “moderate” — meaning a one-in-100 risk of premature death — if you have three to six drinks weekly, CCSA said. As you increase the intake, the risks grow higher — more steeply for women than men when they go over six drinks per week.

“The principles that we want to land on is that people have a right to know less is better, and that there’s harm reduction strategies that people can use to decrease the amount that they drink in order to improve their health and well-being,” said Dr. Peter Butt, co-chair of the project to develop Canada’s alcohol guidance.

Read more: New alcohol consumption guidelines require a phased approach, experts say

Mills said he and Leszcz were paying close attention to the guidelines and thought of ways to create more transparency and education around their products.

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“The idea that people don’t have an understanding of what a unit of alcohol is – that there is a great difference between a big, heavy glass of wine or something like a light spritzer,” Mills said.

“One is 16.5 per cent and the other is 2.5 per cent so there is a lot of confusion.”

Taryn Grieder, a professor of psychology a the University of Toronto, said there is a lot more research on the potential harms of alcohol.

“I think the more information we have the better…. Before, the guidelines were two drinks a day and now we are two drinks a week so there is just a lot more research has come about recently,” she said.

“I think it’s a good thing and I think it’s in line with what we would like to see in terms of people regulating their behaviour a bit more to get it to be more low-risk overall.”

Leszcz said Wilda has submitted a consumer advisory label proposal to Health Canada and they are currently waiting for a response.

“What goes on to an alcohol label in Ontario and Canada is heavily regulated so for any disclosure, we have to go through the necessary approval channels,” he said.

“We are just in the beginning of that process.”

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Health Canada said in a statement that “the Government of Canada is currently reviewing the (CCSA’s) Final Report, and will continue to engage with Canadians, including key stakeholders such as the CCSA, to inform our government’s work to address harms and risks associated with alcohol use.”

Mills said he hopes consumer advisory labels become a norm in the industry.

“Why do we know so much more about the food we eat and not the things we drink?” he said.

“Responsible consumption begins with education and transparency and we want our consumers to be very aware of what they are consuming…. To understand how many units of alcohol they are holding in their hand is a positive first step.”

— with files from Saba Aziz.

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