Alcoholic Beverage Nutrition Labels
A number of health, safety and consumer groups have been urging the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) over a long period of time to require a standard Serving Facts label on all alcoholic beverage containers. The public interest groups include the Consumer Federation of America, the National Consumer League, Mothers Against Drunk driving (MADD), Shape Up America!, and the American Medical Women's Association.
These and other groups have called upon the TTB to promote responsible consumption among those who choose to drink by providing information necessary to make wise choices. Therefore, they urge that all alcoholic beverage containers list the serving size, calories per serving, alcohol content per serving, and the definition of a standard drink.
After years of bureaucratic foot-dragging and failure to developing a specific nutritional label, some organizations urged TTB to act in the meantime to implement an interim policy permitting producers to provide alcohol, calorie, and allergen information on their labels on a voluntary basis. That was in 2005, and the agency has still not acted.
Information on labels is essential because there are many myths surrounding alcoholic beverages that confuse and mislead consumers. For example, people often think that beer is less alcoholic than a shot of whiskey or that alcoholic drinks generally contain more calories than non-alcoholic drinks. The facts are otherwise.
In reality alcoholic beverages tend to have, for example:
- moderately fewer calories than non-alcoholic beverages,
- dramatically fewer grams of carbohydrates ("carbs"), and
- no fat whatsoever, whereas most non-alcoholic beverages contain fat.
As the following list demonstrates, the actual contents of different beverages vary widely. Therefore, it's absolutely essential that consumers have specific nutritional information on all beverage labels for easy comparison.
Calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein found in standard servings of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages:
|All Distilled Spirits (rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, tequila,
|Apple juice (unsweetened)
|Grape juice (unsweetened)
|Grapefruit juice (unsweetened)
|Milk (2% fat)
|Orange juice (unsweetened)
|Tangerine juice (unsweetened)
- Source: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrient Data Laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 22. Available at www.nal.usda.gov/.
A national poll conducted for the National Consumer League by Opinion Research Corporation found that the vast majority favor having access to the following information:
- the alcohol content (93%);
- the amount of alcohol per serving (87%);
- the number of calories per serving (83%);
- the serving size (82%);
- servings per container (81%);
- carbohydrates per serving (79%);
- fat per serving (77%); and
- protein per serving (70%).
Consumers both want and need nutritional label information on the calories, carbs, and fat contained in what they eat and drink.
Readings and References on Alcoholic Beverage Labels:
- Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. What You Should Know about Grape Wine Labels. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) publication 5190.1, April, 2008.
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. What You Should Know about Distilled Spirits Labels. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) publication 5190.2, April, 2008.
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. What You Should Know about Malt Beverage Labels. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) publication 5190.3, April, 2008.
- Cameron, Duncan H. Standard label info... Indiana Beverage Journal, 2010, 66(8), 4.
Center for Science in the Public Interest. TTB Voluntary Labeling (August, 2004). Alcohol Policies Project section of Center for Science in the Public web site. The Center for Science in the Public Interest adamantly opposes including nutritional information on alcoholic beverage labels. It argues that because "most alcoholic beverages contain little, if any, fat or protein, those nutrients should not be listed on the new label." Trying to suppress this important information is consistent with the CSPI's efforts to discourage alcohol consumption at any level.
Center for Science in the Public Interest. Talking Points and Discussion for Responding to TTB's Request for Comments on Alcohol Labeling Issues. Alcohol Policies Project section of Center for Science in the Public web site. CSPI argues that listing fat content could "open the door to meaningless ‘no fat' claims for alcoholic beverages." But it's not meaningless to report that beer, wine and distilled spirits contain no fat because that's an important nutritional fact. The CSPI's opposition to informing consumers that beer, wine and spirits contain no alcohol is consistent with its neo-prohibitionist orientation.
Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Alcohol Facts" Label Proposed For Beer, Wine, and Liquor. Center for Science in the Public Interest website. December 16, 2003.
Davidow, Julie. Health labels for alcohol? Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 26, 2004.
Doyle, Michael. Feds seek nutrition labels on alcohol. McClatchy Newspapers, July 31, 2007. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2007/07/31/18565/feds-seek-nutrition-labels-on.html
Nutritional Labels Eyed For Alcoholic Beverages WCCO.com, May 24, 2010. wcco.com/consumer/calories.alcohol.wine.2.1712991.html
Nutrition Labels on Alcoholic Beverages Urged. October 13, 2005 ConsumerAffairs.com http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2005/alcohol_labels.html
Persley, Mike. Alcohol nutrition labels: To drink or not to drink once you see what's in it. Chicago Flame, January 11, 2010.
Rose, David. Tories will label alcohol to encourage socially responsible drinking. The Times, January 14, 2010.
Shape Up America! Alcohol awareness should start with [an alcoholic beverage] label like this. http://www.shapeup.org/about/arch_pr/ad_washtimes_vert_v3.pdf The proposed alcohol label would list serving size; servings per container; alcohol per serving; calories, fat and protein per serving; ingredients; and U.S. dietary alcohol recommendations. The proposed container label is supported by the American Council on Science and Health, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the American Public Health Association, the American Society for Nutrition, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the Consumer Federation of America, the National Association of Local Boards of Health, the National Consumers League, Shape Up America!, the National Research Center for Women & Families, and many others.
- Shape Up America? The Shape Up America! Alcohol Labeling Poll Final Results. www.shapeup.org/about/arch_pr/survey_012208.pdf
- Shedding some light on "lite." - alcoholic beverage labels - Updates. FDA Consumer, 1986 (Novmber).
- Skrzycki, Cindy. Alcohol labeling proposal sets off a brawl. Washington Post, January 22, 2008
- Trueland, Jennifer. Governments debate alcohol strength labels. Caledonian Mercury, February 15, 2010.