Labeling Alcoholic Beverages: Just Give 'em the "Facts"

Date: Jan 01, 2004

For many years, the consumer's "right-to-know," especially with respect to food, drug and cosmetics, has been held almost sacrosanct.

Providing truthful, non-misleading information to consumers has typically been found to be a boon, as long as it is based on sound science and is presented in a meaningful way. Thus, one purpose for the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) is to ensure that nutritional and dietary information on food products is provided to consumers in a consistent and reliable manner.

Now, following in that same vein, the National Consumers League (NCL) and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have petitioned the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) (the Treasury Department's successor agency to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms). They're asking that the agency nutritional information in a standard format on labels of alchoholic beverages.

The petition asks TTB to include the following:

  • A beverage's alcohol content expressed as a percentage of volume;
  • Serving size and amount of alcohol per serving;
  • Number of calories per serving;
  • The ingredients, including additives, from which the beverage is made;
  • The number of standard drinks per container; and
  • The U.S. Dietary Guidelines advice on moderate drinking for men and woman.

By including an "Alcohol Facts" panel on the labels of alcoholic beverages, the petitioners believe that consumers would better understand the types and quantities of products that they are consuming.

More Info on Calories, Ingredients

The petition does not stop with providing information on alcohol content alone. NCL and CSPI also believe that it is important to provide consumers with calorie and ingredient information, citing the recently discovered "obesity epidemic." Currently, only light beers and wine and hard cider products that contain less than 7% alcohol are required to have such information. (The latter products are regulated by FDA and must bear a Nutrition Facts panel with this information.)

On the ingredient statement front, the petitioners are adamant that commonly recognized allergens - such as dairy, eggs, gluten or nuts - be declared on the label of alcoholic beverages. Given the ever broadening array of premixed products which could contain one or more of these potential allergens, the point is well taken.

The Distilled Spirits Council does not oppose the petition. In a press release, DISCUS indicated that it "supports providing U.S. consumers with reliable, useful information about what they eat or drink."

Shortly after the petition's submission, Diageo PLC, one of the world's largest producers of spirits, indicated that it will voluntarily provide information on the alcohol and nutritional content of its products - first through its websites, then on printed promotional materials and, ultimately, on its packaging.

In most cases, once a market leader steps up, it's only a matter of time before all others follow. At that point, this rulemaking, if it continues at all, will evolve into a debate over the specifics of the label and not about the concept.

Pulled quote:
Diageo PLC&will voluntarily provide information on the alcohol and nutritional content of its products.

Used with permission. Copyright FOOD & DRUG PACKAGING, January, 2004.

For further information about this article, please contact George G. Misko at 202-434-4170 or by email at misko@khlaw.com.