This lawsuit seeks to compel a bureau of the Treasury Department, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), to decide whether to mandate alcohol labeling, a commonsense and popular step that would allow consumers to make informed choices about the alcoholic products they purchase.
On October 3, 2022, CSPI, Consumer Federation of America (CFA), and National Consumers League (NCL) sued the TTB and Treasury Department to compel a decision on mandatory alcohol content, calorie, ingredient, and allergen labeling on alcoholic beverages. The coalition, represented by CSPI’s litigation department, alleged that TTB has failed to act on a 19-year-old petition urging it to require alcohol labeling with the same basic transparency consumers expect in foods.
The Importance of Alcohol Labeling
Drinking alcohol increases the risk of certain diseases and cancers, alcohol use disorders, and severe injuries, and the more alcohol consumed, the greater the risk. However, alcohol labels do not contain information like the number of standard drinks per container that would make it easier for consumers to drink in moderation.
In addition to the myriad health and social harms associated with overconsumption of alcohol, alcohol is a significant source of empty calories in the diets of adults who drink. Despite this, calories are not currently required to be labeled on alcoholic beverages. Moreover, like other foods and beverages, alcoholic beverages contain various ingredients and additives that consumers for health, safety, religious, or other reasons may need or want to avoid. This is particularly true for the millions of Americans with food allergies. Yet, most ingredients are not required to be disclosed on alcohol labels.
The 2003 Petition
Unlike most other food and beverages, which are regulated by FDA, most alcohol labels are regulated by TTB, which does not require comprehensive, mandatory alcohol labeling. That’s why consumers can’t tell from its label how many calories or what ingredients are in a Samuel Adams Boston Lager. But, a Truly Hard Seltzer, which is made by the same company and has the same alcohol by volume as Boston Lager, must list calories, ingredients, and other nutritional information because it is one of the relatively few alcoholic products that falls under FDA regulation.
In 2003, CSPI, CFA, NCL, and a coalition of 66 other organizations and eight individuals, including four deans of schools of public health, petitioned TTB to fix this flawed system. But, more than nineteen years later, TTB is still dragging its feet in responding. Instead, TTB has only put in place a voluntary system that allows companies to put nutrition and allergy information on their products if they so choose.
After years of inactivity on the petition, we sued TTB and the Treasury Department to force the agency to respond to our 2003 requests. Specifically, we argued TTB violated the Administrative Procedure Act by not responding to the petition within a reasonable time. The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
In response to the lawsuit, in November 2022, TTB sent a letter to Plaintiffs in which it agreed to issue proposed rules requiring standardized alcohol content, calorie, and allergen labeling on all alcoholic products under its jurisdiction. TTB also agreed to begin preliminary rulemaking on mandatory ingredient labeling.
CSPI hopes that TTB follows through with its commitments in a reasonable time so that this matter can be resolved without further litigation.