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B.C. to require bitter-tasting antifreeze

In a bid to keep animals and small children from drinking antifreeze, British Columbia will require its manufacturers to add an “extremely bitter” taste to the product starting in 2011.

“The sweet taste of antifreeze is a major reason for the accidental, often fatal, ingestion of toxic antifreeze by pets, wildlife and young children,” Environment Minister Barry Penner said in a release Wednesday.

“By making it mandatory to add an extremely bitter substance to the product, we will make it less appealing, reducing its likelihood of being consumed in significant quantities.”

The province’s new regulation would mandate the addition of denatonium benzoate to ethylene glycol antifreeze sold at the retail level in B.C., effective Jan. 1, 2011.

Sold under the trade names Bitrex or Aversion, denatonium benzoate is the “bitterest chemical compound known to date,” the province said. The products and other such agents are used in “human and animal taste behaviour modification products” such as nail biting remedies and products to put pets off chewing or licking.

Bittering agents have also been used to prevent accidental poisonings from some toiletries, household cleaners and pesticides, the province said.

The new rule makes B.C. the first province in Canada to have such legislation, the province said.

U.S. Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) has been pressing for such legislation at the federal level in the U.S. for the last four years, citing accidental poisonings of animals and children as well as a case in which a Wisconsin man was jailed for life in 2008 for spiking his wife’s drinks with antifreeze.

B.C.’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has previously pressed the province for an outright ban on ethylene glycol antifreeze, describing ethylene glycol as “a major cause of poisoning deaths in companion animals, wildlife and livestock” as well as poisonous to humans and an environmental toxin.

But the SPCA on Wednesday said it’s “very pleased the government is taking this initiative to reduce the threat of antifreeze poisoning for animals across B.C.”

“Every year our constables and animal care staff deal with numerous cases of pets who have been poisoned by ethylene glycol antifreeze,” B.C. SPCA CEO Craig Daniell said in the province’s release.

But the province still warned that a bad taste shouldn’t let people off the hook for storing new or used antifreeze products safely. “The addition of a bitterant to antifreeze will lessen its appeal, not its toxicity,” the province said.

Denatonium benzoate will not impair antifreeze’s performance, nor would it have any impact on vehicle warranties, the province said.

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