"Alcohol facts" label proposed for beer, wine, and liquor

Calories in Alcohol

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Consumer groups petition TTB to bring alcohol up to labeling standards

A proposal for a uniform "Alcohol Facts" label was submitted today by the National Consumers League (NCL), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and others in a petition to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The petition urges the agency to require a new label for alcoholic beverages that would give consumers clear information about alcohol content, serving sizes, calories, and ingredients. The groups argue that "Alcohol Facts" labels will do for alcoholic beverages what Nutrition Facts labels have done for packaged food: provide readable information that would empower consumers to make informed decisions about the products they consume.

Rules governing alcoholic-beverage labeling suffer from jurisdictional gaps between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB, formerly the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms). The FDA can weigh in on alcoholic- beverage labeling in only a small number of cases. And, TTB has no institutional expertise in diet or nutrition. Adding further confusion are TTB’s inconsistent standards for beer, wine, and hard liquor, and the abundance of products that increasingly blur those three traditional categories of alcoholic beverages.

"Existing labeling rules are inconsistent, confusing, and don’t help consumers compare beverages’ alcohol or calorie content," said NCL President Linda Golodner. "While wine and hard liquor list alcohol content, beer doesn’t. And while ‘light’ beer and low-alcohol wines list calories, regular beer, wine, and hard liquor don’t."

"Consumers who are trying to maintain a healthful weight have very little information about how many calories alcoholic beverages are contributing to their diet," said George Hacker, director of CSPI’s Alcohol Policies Project. "Given America’s concern over the epidemic of overweight and obesity, it makes no sense that such a significant source of calories goes undisclosed on labels."

The Alcohol Facts label would disclose:

  • Alcohol content and standard servings. Labels would list the number of drinks per container and the amount of alcohol in a standard serving. The label would also state the U.S. Dietary Guidelines’ definition of moderate drinking as no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.
  • Calorie information. Labels would list calories per serving so consumers concerned about excess weight or obesity could put alcoholic beverages in the context of their diet.
  • Ingredients. Labels would list ingredients so consumers can compare beverages, and so the seven million Americans with food allergies can know if an alcoholic beverage contains milk, eggs, gluten, or other allergens. Currently, sulfites and Yellow Dye No. 5 are the only ingredients that are required to be listed.

"It seems silly that a bottle of lemonade has to list its ingredients, but a bottle of hard lemonade doesn’t," Hacker said. "Our proposed label would let consumers see exactly what’s in various brands of beers, wine, and hard liquors."

"Consumers who are seeking to moderate their alcohol intake have a right to know how much alcohol is in a serving and how many servings are in a given container," Golodner said.

A recent survey commissioned by CSPI found that 58 percent either do not know the caloric content of beer or believe it to be lower than it is. Eighty- nine percent support calorie labeling on alcoholic beverages.

"Current labeling requirements for alcoholic beverages are outdated," according to the petition. "They do not reflect current scientific knowledge of consumer expectations." Sixty-seven consumer groups and four deans of public health schools joined NCL and CSPI on the petition.