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Public Interest Groups Call for Revised Alcohol Labeling

WASHINGTON -- At a press conference here yesterday, public interest organizations Shape Up America and the National Consumers League demanded that the federal government act immediately to mandate the same standardized labeling information on beer, wine, and distilled spirits that currently appears on packaging for foods, beverages, and over-the-counter drugs.

Scheduled to coincide with the close of the period during which the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) asked for public comment on the need for such labeling, the conference drew attention to the fact that the groups' review of the comments received by TTB showed that there was "overwhelming public support" for TTB to require a standardized "Alcohol Facts" panel with such basic information as serving size, calories per serving, alcohol content per serving, and allergen information on product labels .

The two public interest groups also encouraged TTB to implement an interim policy so that alcoholic beverage manufacturers can voluntarily put such information on their labels. This measure would allow consumers more opportunities to make informed choices regarding alcoholic beverages while TTB works to implement a final rule, which might take several years.

"Today even the most basic information about alcohol beverages is not required to be provided on the labels of most alcohol beverage products," said National Consumers League president Linda Golodner in a statement. "Just as conventional foods, dietary supplements, and nonprescription drugs are required to provide a basic minimum of information needed by consumers to make informed purchasing decisions, alcohol beverage labels should also be required to provide this information."

"Given the national obesity epidemic, it makes no sense that most alcohol beverage labels contain no information about calories," noted Dr. Barbara J. Moore, president and c.e.o. of Shape Up America. "Better information about the alcohol and calorie content per serving and a definition of a standard drink is especially important and should be given the highest priority because of the many public health problems caused by excessive consumption of alcohol."

Their opinions were echoed in detailed comments submitted to TTB by the Federal Trade Commission, which believes that mandatory labeling of alcoholic beverages "is likely to have beneficial effects on consumers and competition" by increasing the ability of people to gauge their consumption of alcohol, calories, carbs, and fat. Other professional societies that submitted comments to TTB were the American Dietetic Association, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, American Society of Addiction Medicine, the American Public Health Association, the Society for Nutrition Education, and the Society for Women's Health Research.

Golodner told Progressive Grocer that a random sample survey the National Consumers League conducted of 983 adults age 21 and over revealed that nine out of 10, or 89 percent, say that companies should be allowed to put information on their products that tell consumers how much alcohol is in a standard serving, and 86 percent believe that TTB should not be able to prevent manufacturers from putting that type of information on their labels. Additionally, the survey found that most adults also wanted to know such things as allergen information (93 percent), alcohol content (93 percent), ingredients (90 percent), the amount of alcohol per serving (87 percent), the number of calories per serving (83 percent), the carbohydrates per serving (79 percent), and the fat per serving (77 percent). The need for such information is critical, according to Golodner, as "people don't realize some of the things that they're drinking."

Golodner further noted that out of the 18,600 comments submitted to TTB on the proposed rule, 17,000, or 96 percent, were in favor of labeling alcoholic beverages. She added that an interim rule would allow manufacturers to update their labeling, as when the FDA allowed voluntary labeling on food labels before making such information mandatory.

In 2003 the National Consumers League joined with the Center for Science in the Public Interest and 75 other public health and consumer organizations in submitting a formal petition to TTB to require an "Alcohol Facts" panel on the labels of all alcohol beverage products. As a result of this, TTB issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in April 2005. Golodner pointed out, though, that the Center for Science in the Public Interest first raised the idea of such labeling for alcoholic beverages more than 30 years ago, but that the industry had been "dragging its feet" with regard to any changes, often citing competitive reasons.
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