Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

The big fight over the “fact labels” for alcohol beverages

By William Brand
Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008 at 2:30 pm in Uncategorized.

Here’s the news. The government is about to close a comment period on a proposal to list ingredients on alcohol beverage labels, but controversy continues. Should alcohol labels have little charts like those on food containers? Opinions vary – to put it mildly, brewers, distillers, health groups, even former surgeon general C. Everett Koop has weighed in.

As people in New Orleans know only too well, the federal government moves with glacial speed. But the proposal to put health information on beer and other alcohol labels makes the Bush Administration’s response to Katrina seem faster than a speeding bullet.

In 1972, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Washington-based consumer advocacy group, asked the government to include ingredient labels on alcoholic beverage containers.

In 2003, the group petitioned the government again, suggesting an ingredient list, alcohol content and the definition of moderate drinking: one drink per day for women; two for men.

Last year the federal Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau proposed a series of label changes and invited comments. According to Cindy Skrzycki in this morning’s Washington Post, the new regulations would require listing carbohydrates, protein and fat in alcoholic beverages just like food labels. It also would require alcohol content.Pina Colada

The comment period, which has drawn over 100 comments and heated controversy, ends on Sunday (Jan. 27, 2008). But this dispute’s just beginning. The Center for Science in the Public Interest wonders why an alcohol label should list protein and carbs as if the drink was food.

“There might be some nutritional value in a Mudslide (Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlua and chocolate syrup) or a Pina Colada (light rum, coconut cream, crushed pineapple),” CSPI’s Jeff Cronin said. “What people want to see is calories, so they can measure and moderate their drinking. They’d also like to see ingredients, so they know what they’re drinking,” Cronin said.

This is a shouting match that’s far from over. Cronin predicts it may well spill over into the next presidential administration.

Here in California, we’re lucky. Nearly all craft brewers list alcohol content and ingredients. But many states actually ban displaying alcohol content on the label. Well, I’m gonna shove this one into the “oh, whatever,” category. If this is an issue that turns you on, read the Washington Post article. Also beer author Greg Kitsock wrote an excellent piece on the subject last summer. NOTE: Washington Post requires a no-cost sign up.

And the most recent U.S. Dietary Guidelines have a lot to say about alcohol. Including this:

The majority of American adults consume alcohol. Those who do so should drink alcoholic beverages in moderation. Moderation is defined as the consumption of up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

Twelve fluid ounces of regular beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits count as one drink for purposes of explaining moderation. This definition of moderation is not intended as an average over several days but rather as the amount consumed on any single day.

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