National Consumers League

NCL disappointed in Treasury Department for taking major step back in alcohol labeling

January 23, 2008

NCL Recognizes TTB for Progress on Alcohol Labeling, but Expresses Disappointment in Agency for Taking Major Step Back from Recent Proposals

Contact: 202-835-3323, media@nclnet.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Consumers League (NCL) has expressed its disappointment in the U.S. Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB), the federal agency responsible for regulating alcohol beverages for its new proposed rule on alcohol content. In comments joined by several other organizations representing patients, consumers, and families, NCL raised concerns about the TTB’s recent proposed rule on “Alcohol Serving Facts,” arguing that the rule represents an “about-face” on TTB’s part, with a decrease in the amount of important information mandated on the labels.

Five years ago, NCL served as the lead organization on a petition requesting a mandatory “Alcohol Facts” panel on labels of all alcoholic beverages. NCL has also called for industry support for better labeling of alcoholic beverages.

The full letter to TTB is available here. Excerpts from the letter, signed by NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg, follow:

“The proposed rule represents a sharp retreat from earlier TTB proposals for the Serving Facts panel. Originally, in proposed specifications issued by TTB in July 2004, the Serving Facts panel would have been required to include the following information: the amount of alcohol per serving, the definition of a “standard drink,” and the number of standard drinks per serving. Now, TTB is proposing that no alcohol information at all be required in the Serving Facts panel and that only [alcohol by volume] ABV and amount of alcohol per serving be permitted. Yet, TTB has provided no persuasive explanation for this about-face.”

“We appreciate TTB’s proposing a mandatory Serving Facts panel, but are disappointed that the proposed rule would not mandate any new information about alcohol content on product labels. Under the proposed rule, the “Serving Facts” panel for a beer, wine, or distilled spirit product could, at the option of the bottler, contain no information about alcohol whatsoever.

“TTB [is] missing a historic opportunity to de-mystify the composition of alcoholic beverages and educate consumers about healthy and responsible drinking. We urge TTB to require a mandatory Serving Facts panel that contains meaningful information about alcohol content, information consumers need to help them drink responsibly and follow federal dietary recommendations.”

On ABV labeling

NCL commended TTB for extending the requirement to declare percent ABV to all alcoholic beverage products, thus closing an existing loophole in the law. (Current law does not require ABV information on the labels of malt beverages, except for flavored malt beverages, or wines containing 7 to 14 percent alcohol by volume.)

However, NCL raised concerns about consumers’ ability to find the information, given that bottlers would now essentially be given the opportunity if they so choose, to “bury the information."

“Consumers deserve to know where ABV can be found. For this reason, we urge TTB to require that ABV appear in the Serving Facts panel, and allow it to be repeated elsewhere on the label at the option of the bottler.”

On a Mandatory Serving Facts panel

NCL commended TTB for proposing a mandatory “Serving Facts” panel on labels of all alcohol beverage products, calling it “a significant breakthrough,” but once again criticized the agency’s failure to require ABV information on the panel.

“We find it inconceivable that the ‘Serving Facts’ panel for alcohol beverages would not be required to include any information about alcohol content. Since alcohol is the characterizing ingredient in alcohol beverages, a ‘Serving Facts’ panel with no mandatory alcohol content information does not make sense. The main purpose of modernizing alcohol beverage labels is to provide consumers with more useful and actionable information about alcohol content. Yet, except for the expansion of the ABV labeling requirement noted above, the proposed rule fails to do this.”