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Fed delays on alcohol labeling stymieing national policies on alcohol and obesity

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December 20, 2010

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Washington, DC--The National Consumers League (NCL) has once again called on the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to issue a final rule to improve alcohol beverage labeling.

“The drinking public needs certain basic information on beer, wine, and spirits labels,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “With a severe nationwide obesity epidemic, there is no excuse for not having calories listed on all alcohol beverage labels. Consumers also need clear information about alcohol content in order to drink responsibly.”

Seven years ago, the National Consumers League petitioned TTB to require an “Alcohol Facts” panel on labels of beer, wine, and distilled spirits. More than 3 years ago, TTB proposed a watered-down version of “Alcohol Facts,” which it called “Serving Facts,” but has still not issued a final rule.

“The Alcohol Facts panel was intended to provide all the information consumers need in one location, clearly and concisely,” said Greenberg. “It would be like the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels, except that it would provide the information relevant to alcoholic beverages.” NCL asked that the “Alcohol Facts” panel include serving size, the number of calories per serving, alcohol content information (including the amount of alcohol per serving, the definition of a “standard drink,” and the number of standard drinks per container), and ingredient information.

“The nine college students who went to an emergency room for alcohol poisoning after drinking too much of a caffeinated alcoholic beverage earlier this year may not have realized just how much alcohol they were consuming,” added Greenberg. “Maybe if the standard drinks per container had been required to appear on the labels, they wouldn’t have made that mistake.”

TTB’s inaction on Alcohol Facts labeling is also interfering with other important public health objectives. A new law requires nutrition labeling of foods and beverages served in chain restaurants and bars, including alcoholic beverages, but there is no approved method for measuring certain nutrients in alcohol and TTB has provided the industry with no guidance. If the Alcohol Facts panel were required, restaurants and bars could simply use the information on the product label.

The lack of calorie and alcohol information on beer, wine, and spirits labels is also an obstacle to application of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services will soon issue the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, but, without calorie and alcohol information on product labels, consumers still will not be able to follow its recommendations on weight control and alcohol consumption.

“Label reform for alcoholic beverages is a no brainer,” according to Greenberg. “What is TTB waiting for?”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.