CAMRA, Confusion and Cocoa

Last Monday, 16th November, the Independent published an article - CAMRA: UK's biggest organiser of beer festivals refuses to stock ales from breweries that don't provide full list of ingredients. The paper billed the move by CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) as a support for those with food allergies and intolerances.

On the same day, I received a press release from CAMRA embargoed until Friday 20th and which featured the same news. On that date, Hospitality and Catering News reproduced it in full.

You might consider it admirable to insist all breweries should provide full ingredients. But it's important to note that this is NOT a legal requirement, unlike the requirements placed on foods and most other drinks. Alcoholic drinks above a certain strength are exempt from listing full ingredients, but they must disclose any of the 14 allergens present.

"Every CAMRA festival now has full allergen information [my emphasis] available to customers for every single real ale on sale, which ensures that somebody with an intolerance to something like gluten or wheat can be sure the beer they are choosing is suitable for them to drink," Tim Page, CAMRA CE, is quoted as saying on the press release.

But hang on, is this about just the allergens - or all ingredients? It is not entirely clear. Providing full allergen information is just ... the law. We don't see supermarkets trumpeting the fact that all the foods on their shelves give full allergen information ... because that's just the law too.

The press release goes on to quote Lindsey McManus of Allergy UK complimenting CAMRA for ...  upholding the law, then throws in some exaggerated figures for dairy intolerance (33%), gluten allergy (6%) and gluten intolerance (20%) (no clue where these figures come from; no reference provided), quotes some brewers, and ends with another puzzling quote from Page.

" ... It's important that brewers are making allergen info readily available - brewing with raspberry, cocoa and milk sugars? Sounds delicious, but ensure your customers know about it!" 

Neither raspberry nor cocoa are allergens. Do CAMRA know what they're talking about, or even asking for, I can't help wondering?

Allergens or Ingredients?
I spoke with CAMRA's press officer - a conversation which didn't fill me with much confidence that the difference between food allergens and full ingredients was understood at CAMRA. Ayo eventually confirmed that 'we will not be accepting beers from ... breweries that can't provide a full list of ingredients ... but will be encouraging brewers to provide this information'.

Some will argue the law should demand all ingredients be declared, to help those allergic to ingredients not among the 14. A fair point, but if that's what CAMRA is insisting on, then they may risk pissing off those breweries who want to keep their full ingredients a trade secret - a privilege the law currently entitles them to, whether you, I or they approve of it or not.

And if this is indeed what CAMRA is calling for, then let's also be clear that demanding full ingredient transparency is nothing whatsoever to do with abiding by new EU allergen labelling regulations. In fact, it's somewhat of the opposite: it's demanding information on ingredients which fall outside the regulations.

All this is a shame. But I'm so baffled by this whole business that I'm left uncertain whether this really is what CAMRA is asking for. The comically bullish title of the press release - 'CAMRA Tackling New Allergens Laws Head-On' - begs further questions on their understanding. But I guess 'CAMRA will not break the law nor endorse law breaking' wouldn't have made much of an impact.

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