UK ePetition: Make Alcohol Industry Include Calorie Information on Bottles/Cans

Published On 10-June-2020
By Tim Wood

epetition

There is currently a lot of pressure on the alcohol industry to start providing nutritional information on its packaging. Whilst it is advised, there are no laws in place to force the hand of these beverage producers to add nutrition labels to alcoholic products sold in the UK.

There are many advantages to adding nutritional labels to alcohol products and in this post, we are going to explore this in greater depth.

What Is The Current Situation Of Adding Nutrition Labels On Alcoholic Goods?

Packaged foods are required by law to have a clear nutrition label detailing the nutritional value of the goods. However, this is not currently the case with alcoholic goods.

Alcohol is a form of sugar and it is no secret that consuming it means that we are taking in a large number of unnecessary calories. For this reason, many people are asking that the law be changed and nutrition labels become a required aspect of alcoholic packaging.

In the United Kingdom, food packaging is currently required to contain information such as how many grams of fat a product contains, how many grams of protein, and the calorie level amongst other things.

There is some suggestion that a virtual nutrition label, accessed through a QR code would be suitable for alcoholic products. But this is not widely accepted in the wine industry since there are members of the community without internet access.

What Is Currently Shown On Alcohol Labels By Law?

As things currently stand, there is no legal requirement to show nutritional values on any alcoholic product, that being said there are other pieces of information which producers of these products are required to display.

Primarily, the alcohol content of the product should be clearly shown, this is done by giving a percentage, usually on the front or back label of the product. You will also notice the number of alcohol units contained within the product appearing usually by the side of the percentage value.

Aside from the requirement to display alcohol content, many manufacturers of beers, wines, and spirits will also display the voluntary options of health risks with drinking. These include advising against drinking during pregnancy, the UK government recommended drinking guidelines: although this is not an obligation.

It may be surprising to learn that in 2016, a completely new set of government guidelines were introduced for alcohol consumption. However, it is thought that 2/3 of alcohol labels are outdated and show old information.

What Is The History Behind Nutritional Labels Being Shown On Food?

Nutrition labels are commonplace throughout the world, especially in developed countries that pay a great deal of attention to healthy eating and problems with obesity.

In the past 30 years, views on nutrition labels have become more serious with laws being placed to ensure that all packaged food clearly shows the consumer what they are putting into their body.

In 1991 a panel for Dietary Reference Values created a set of values relating to the amounts of proteins, fats, carbs, and other nutrients in food, shortly after in 1996 daily recommended guidelines were introduced.

As the UK entered into the 21st century, a great focus was placed on reducing obesity levels and in 2004 the government began to take serious action to ensure clear labelling of foods.

The following year food giant Tesco began to consider the impact of using the food label on the front of their packaging as opposed to the back where information could be more clearly seen.

This created something of a snowball effect and throughout the late 2000s governments across Europe began to take notice, this led to the publication of the Regulation of Food Information in the Official Journal of the European Union.

What Does The European Commission's Voluntary Practise Have To Say About Adding Nutritional Labels To Alcohol?

The European Commission appears to be taking the addition of nutritional labels to alcohol very seriously and has called out for a voluntary code of practise in accordance with this.

It is, of course, down to the alcoholic beverages industry to comply with this and due to it being voluntary, this could take some time. However, the European Commission has urged the industry to respond to this by the year 2021.

Why Doesn't Alcohol Come With Nutritional Facts?

The main reason that you won't find nutritional information on alcohol products is that it is regulated by a different body that covers both alcohol and tobacco products. For example, laws passed in recent years require clear information on tobacco products as to the associated health risks - and packaging used to glamorize the use of such products.

According to DrinkAware there can be up to 160 calories in a large glass of red wine, the recommended daily intake of calories is around 2000, so if you drink a whole bottle of wine with your meal - you're almost a third into your allowance.

So why are alcohol producers so reluctant to adhere to the voluntary use of nutritional labels? Could it be that by displaying this information it would create something of a health scare meaning that sales would plummet? It is certainly food for thought.

However, after scouring the internet, we come to discover that after sifting through information on prohibition in the 1930s and various voluntary standards - a simple EU law is to blame. This law states that if an alcoholic drink is over 1.2% then nutritional values are not required. [1]

What Else Could Be On The Label And What Would This Mean?

There are numerous suggestions for what information could be displayed on nutritional labels on alcoholic products, consider the impact of some of the following:

  • Allergen information
  • Ingredients
  • Nutritional information including sugar content, fat content, salt etc
  • Calorie count
  • Warning against drink driving
  • Warnings relating to health
  • Legal age for purchase warnings

There has been evidence to suggest that warning labels used on tobacco products do have an effect and so it is thought that the same could be said if these nutrition labels were displayed on alcohol products. In turn, this could mean significant changes in behaviour and how adults in the UK view alcohol consumption.

In addition to this, the average adult in the United Kingdom is unaware of the health risks relating to excessive alcohol use, and the use of health labels may increase awareness and encourage a healthier lifestyle.

More attention might be paid to being aware of the calorie content of most alcoholic beverages. This might mean that people may start drinking at decreased levels.

What Will Adding Nutrition Labels To Alcoholic Beverages Look Like?

The drink trade has promised to have tackled the issue of labelling alcoholic products with nutritional and health information, but what outcome can we expect from this?

The most important factor in this will be to address the current loophole which means that any drinks containing more than 1.2% of alcohol are not required to use nutrition labels. Once the loophole is sealed, all alcoholic beverages will need to display the information we have discussed.

What is most likely will be that labels will contain information regarding serving size as opposed to details in the entire contents of the package, this can make the information much more relevant and easier to understand.

It is also hoped that there will be a more detailed virtual information label available online for each product, allowing the consumer to get more in-depth. This will also give people the freedom to choose healthier options and live a better life.

What Issues Will Adding Nutritional Labels To Alcohol Address?

The main point of concern when it comes to adding nutrition labels to alcohol is to address health concerns. This especially relates to obesity, with current numbers rising - and alcohol is one of the products to blame for this. Displaying its high-calorie content may help people to make healthier choices, in turn addressing the obesity issues.

Alongside this, there are various other health concerns such as heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes which can be more prominent in those who frequently drink or who are obese. [2]

With an estimated 10% of calories coming from alcohol in adults who drink, it is little surprise that drink-related health concerns are on the rise. The addition of labels will hopefully address these issues and raise awareness.

How Does Sugar In Alcohol Affect The Obesity Crisis At Present?

There have been many studies showing the effects of the sugar contained in alcohol and it is thought that in the Western world, up to 20% of our calorie intake comes in a liquid form - with some of this being alcohol.

When many people think about the UK, heavy drinking may spring to mind, especially when associated with the binge drinking culture. Could this be one of the reasons that we are now the third most fat country on the continent?

Drinking alcohol is in fact taking in 'empty calories.' This is essentially sugar which provides no nutritional value and in turn, can be a cause of excess body fat.

With such large quantities of alcohol being consumed in the UK, it comes as no surprise that these unnecessary sugars are playing a huge part in the obesity crisis.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Adding Nutritional Labels To Alcohol?

It is evident that the main plus point of adding nutritional labels to alcohol is that it will bring much greater awareness of the health risks associated with drinking alcohol. Most notably, the calorie content, as this will attempt to target the growing problems we are seeing with obesity.

In addition to this, displaying information relating to allergens within the product may greatly reduce the number of reactions people have when drinking certain alcoholic beverages.

Consumers are keen to know exactly what is in everything they eat or drink. But as it stands, this isn't the case with wines, beers, and spirits. From the opposing point of view, one might argue that putting nutritional labels on alcoholic products would take a lot of time and money.

This is because each product needs to be tested in a lab to determine the exact amount of different nutrients within it. This process may also be difficult when it comes to testing vintage products. [3]

What's more, there are some concerns that adding these labels would remove the idea that alcohol is in fact, a drug, and would normalise its use even further.

The argument goes on to say that the addition of such labels would imply that alcohol is food and may have some sort of nutritional value when this is not the reality.

Would Nutritional Labels On Alcohol Really Help People Control Their Calorie Intake?

Whilst controlling calories isn't an issue for some people, there are others who would find the additional information to be extremely useful. Displaying these labels would provide consumers with a choice.

For example, when looking to purchase a white wine, if you noted that one of a choice of two was lower in calories, you may be more likely to choose it. As it currently stands, we are not given this choice.

For this reason, nutritional labels could serve as a way of helping people to control their calorie intake. Most adults are currently unaware of the number of calories in their favourite alcoholic drinks. The shock of seeing this information may be enough to deter them from overindulging.

What Does The Population Think Of This?

Looking at various surveys, it would seem that most adults are unaware of calorie intake when it comes to drinking alcohol. Many people count their consumption in the number of drinks they consume rather than the overall number of calories. But might this change if new information was shown on the packaging?

Many people are currently confused by the use of alcohol units on the packaging and may find nutritional information much easier to understand.

This may result in fewer health problems stemming from alcohol use. More interestingly, a staggering 26% of people surveyed believe that the ingredients are currently shown on the label - whilst the opposite is correct.

Health information displayed on alcohol products is more noticed by younger consumers, could this translate into healthier choices being made by the younger generation?

This perhaps may be the case, since many younger drinkers currently take more notice of the alcohol content of their drinks compared to those over the age of 65.

Conclusion

Nutritional information labels on alcoholic products is not currently a legal requirement for alcohol producers. But there may be a benefit in them doing so.

As awareness of health and well being continues to grow, there is more and more call for these labels to be included on all alcoholic products. This would likely see a reduction in the number of cases of obesity as well as people making healthier choices when it comes to drinking.

It is thought that new laws will be implemented by the year 2022 and this should provide us with extra details on exactly what we are putting into our bodies when we take an alcoholic drink.

Sign Our Petition

If you would like to get on board in tackling the UK's obesity, health & addiction issues, sign our petition today.

References

[1] http://www.foodlabel.org.uk/label/history.aspx

[2] https://alcoholchange.org.uk/blog/2019/knowing-whats-in-the-bottle-why-we-need-labelling-laws

[3] https://iard.org/science-resources/detail/beverage-alcohol-labeling-requirements/


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