Labels on Alcoholic Drinks Should Include Calories, Ingredients & Alcohol Content, Says CSPI


Not Protein, Fat and Carbs as Bush Administration Proposes

January 22, 2008

WASHINGTON—Consumers would benefit from information about calories, serving size, ingredients, and alcohol content on labels for beer, wine, and hard liquor, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. But a rule proposed by federal alcohol regulators at the Treasury Department would let manufacturers omit alcohol content from the proposed information panel, and instead include line items for fat and protein, nutrients not in the vast majority of alcoholic drinks. In comments filed with the Treasury Department’s Tax and Trade Bureau today, CSPI urged the agency to go back to the drawing board and conduct real-world consumer research about how a new uniform alcohol label would help consumers measure and moderate their drinking.

“These labels should benefit consumers, not industry,” said CSPI alcohol policies director George A. Hacker. “Consumers need information about calories, to help watch their weight; alcohol content, to help measure their drinking; and ingredients, to help comparison shop on the basis of quality and allergens.”

In 2003, CSPI, the National Consumer League, and others called on TTB to develop an easy-to-read, standardized Alcohol Facts label, similar to the popular Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods. In 2007, TTB responded by proposing a “Serving Facts” label which would include calories, fat, carbs, and protein, but which would let manufacturers disclose alcohol content elsewhere, and presumably in much smaller print, on the label. The TTB proposal also would not require disclosure of ingredients, nor would it require a statement communicating the government’s advice on moderate drinking.

In fact, one of the TTB’s proposed Serving Facts label is eerily similar to a 2005 Diageo advertisement in USA Today for Seagram’s 7 whiskey, neatly illustrating the industry’s influence over the bureau, says CSPI.

The TTB proposal also suggests that the agency is trying to simultaneously accommodate brewers on the one hand, who would prefer not to disclose alcohol content on labels at all, and distillers on the other, who would look forward to portraying liquor as Diageo did in the Seagram’s ad—as a virtual diet drink with zero carbs, zero fat, zero protein, and, if alcohol is only expressed in terms of fluid ounces per serving, even that looks low (0.6 fl oz).

“That,” says Hacker, “makes zero sense. It’s clear that the Treasury Department conducted absolutely no real-world consumer research to justify its proposal.”

Another objective of the liquor industry is to promote the idea that the alcohol content of a drink of hard liquor is equivalent to that of a glass of wine or a can of beer—an idea that the industry hopes will make it more likely that liquor eventually gets to play by beer’s rules when it comes to issues like taxation, distribution, and advertising.

“While it’s good news that the Bush Administration has begun a rule-making on alcohol labeling, it’s a shame that it’s proposed a confusing scheme that advances the public relations objectives of the industry more than it does the public’s health or the convenience of consumers,” said Hacker. “And that mostly boils down to rank politics, pure and simple.”

The comment period closes on January 27. For more information on CSPI's efforts to improve alcohol labeling, visit http://www.cspinet.org/booze/iss_ingred_label.htm.

 

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