December 16, 2009
Six years and NOT counting: alcohol and calories, that is
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Washington, DC-- A coalition of public interest groups today reminded Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that it has been six years since it petitioned the Treasury Department to make “meaningful change” in how the Department regulates alcohol labeling. Summarizing a record of more than 30 years of inaction by TTB and its predecessor agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League, and Shape Up America! reminded the Secretary that there is overwhelming public support for a standardized “Alcohol Facts” panel on all beer, wine, and distilled spirits products listing such basic information as the serving size, calories per serving, alcohol content per serving, and the definition of a “standard drink.”
“Today, alcoholic beverages are the only major category of consumable products not required to carry label information summarizing the basic characteristics of the product,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. “It’s time the public has the same easily accessible labeling information that is now required for conventional foods, dietary supplements, and nonprescription drugs.”
The organizations point to one of the consequences of inconsistent and incomplete alcohol labeling: most Americans have no idea what constitutes a “standard drink,” which the Dietary Guidelines defines as 12 fluid ounces of regular beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine and 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof (40 percent) distilled spirits.
“It shouldn’t take a calculator for consumers to tell how many ‘standard drinks’ are in a particular product or to determine how much alcohol they are actually consuming,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League.
George Hacker, Director of the Alcohol Policies Project at Center for Science in the Public Interest put it this way: "TTB has more than earned a new name: ‘The Take our Time Bureau.’ Endless delay in issuing rules for transparency in alcohol-product labeling has kept consumers in the dark about alcohol and calorie content and has stymied public health efforts to combat intoxication and weight gain. This is yet another example of TTB's cavalier attitude about the real risks of alcohol consumption."
While continuing to press for a useful final regulation on alcohol labeling, the four public interest organizations are taking steps to fill the void by providing consumers with information about alcohol content and what constitutes moderate drinking. Especially during the holidays, the organizations want Americans to have these facts:
- It doesn’t matter what you drink, it’s really how much that counts. Don’t kid yourself into thinking beer or wine is “safer” or less “potent” than the “hard stuff.” So, remember, 12 ounces of beer has the same amount of alcohol as 5 ounces of wine and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Eat food while you drink and alternate water or other nonalcoholic drink with your alcoholic beverage.
- In many cases, alcohol and medications don’t mix. Always read the label to determine if the prescription medicine or over-the-counter drug carries a specific warning about consuming alcohol.
- Before you go out plan how you are going to get home. Designate a driver, have a taxi number, and money ready to pay the taxi. Whatever you do, don’t drink and drive.
- If you are hosting a party, keep an eye out for those who may have had too much to drink and planning to drive home. If necessary, take their keys and call a taxi.
- Whether you are a parent, family member or a friend, don’t serve to or buy alcohol for people under 21.
Increasing public understanding of these basic health messages also requires ending the stalemate in modernizing beverage alcohol labels. “There is no debate within the public health and nutrition community about the need for mandatory and complete alcohol labeling,” said Dr. Barbara J. Moore, President and CEO of Shape Up America! “Today’s labeling requirements for alcoholic beverages are outdated, and they don’t demonstrate the national leadership that is critically needed to help consumers count their calories and help address the growing epidemic of obesity.”