New Nutrition Labels for Alcohol

Many people who drink alcohol are curious to know; why doesn’t alcohol have a nutrition or ingredient label? The answer is not as simple as you’d think.

Back in the day, shortly after the repeal of prohibition, Congress passed the Alcohol Administration Act as a way to reap tax benefits from the expected lucrative alcohol market. The AAT eventually became the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.   While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the majority of food and drinks our nation consumes, and requires nutritional labeling on all of these things, alcohol is not under their jurisdiction. Instead, alcohol falls under the TTB, which does not require labeling.

The push for labels on alcohol has been almost non-stop over the years. In 2013, the TTB finally made labels optional, but not required. Of course, this “option” is almost useless as the majority of alcohol manufacturers have no desire to disclose their ingredients or calories.   Distilled liquor bottles are required to have a label to show the percentage of alcohol, as well as any wine that has a higher than 14% alcohol percentage. Wines with lower than 14% and beers are not required to carry a label that shows alcohol percentage but they may if they desire.

There was a brief period of time where beers were banned from labeling alcohol percentage for fear that advertising would be based on alcohol percentage and the competition would go crazy. In 1995, the Supreme Court overturned that ban on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment.   From there, it only gets more complicated. Wine with a lower than 7% alcohol percentage and beers made without malted barley actually fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA instead of the Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau, meaning that they are required to have a nutritional label. However, the FDA does not require these drinks to disclose alcohol content.

Believe it or not, alcoholic beverages under the jurisdiction of the TTB do not have to list ingredients, including allergens such a peanuts or eggs. Though not required to list ingredients or common allergens, they are required to label for specific substances that some may be sensitive to, such as sulfites or Yellow no. 5 dye.   As you can see, the laws and policies regarding alcohol and labeling are rife with contradictions and exceptions, regardless of whether the TTB or FDA is making them.

One company, however, is making a voluntary step in the right direction.   Diageo, the world’s largest spirits company as well as a major beer and wine distributor, will begin putting labels on all of their products. Diageo is the maker of Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Tanqueray and Guinness. The new labels, titled “Serving Facts” will include serving size, number of servings per bottle, alcohol content, calories, and grams of carbohydrates, protein, and fat per serving.

Other companies may follow suit after such a drink giant like Diageo makes a step that no other company has previously made. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has been pushing for alcohol companies and the TTB to begin labeling. The TTB and beer, wine and spirits manufacturers are concerned about the impact labeling would have on their sales, fearing that they would lose business when people realize how many calories and what ingredients their beverages contain.

Hopefully other companies will follow Diageo’s example and being to label their products. It’s possible that through transparency in labeling, they may gain customers that care about what they’re consuming.

Photo credit: Maëlick / Foter / CC BY-SA

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