Alcohol industry grapples with nutrition labeling

January 26, 2011 

SAN FRANCISCO - Pick up just about any beverage on store shelves and on the back of the packaging you'll find a numerical rundown of calories, carbs, etc.

Unless, that is, the beverage is alcohol.

Some folks want to change that.

“In the year 2011, it’s sort of bizarre that alcohol’s the only consumable product sold in the United States that you can’t tell what’s inside the bottle,” says Guy L. Smith, executive vice president in North America for Diageo, the world’s leading distilled spirits, beer and wine company.

Diageo is supporting a proposal presently before the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau – the agency with authority over alcohol labels – to list nutrition information such as calories, carbohydrates, serving size and alcohol per serving.

But not everyone in the industry is as enthusiastic.

At the Beer Institute, a trade association based in Washington, D.C., officials support listing calories, carbs, protein and fat content, as well as alcohol by volume. But they oppose the idea of defining serving size by fluid ounces of pure alcohol, or as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, on the grounds that you may get more than 1.5 ounces of liquor in a cocktail depending on what else is in the drink and the accuracy of the bartender.

At the San Francisco-based Wine Institute, officials are asking that the labeling requirements be on a voluntary basis only. (Diageo also supports voluntary compliance.)

If labeling is made mandatory, then the Wine Institute is asking for accommodations, such as being allowed to generalize the calorie and carb counts on wine, rather than needing to have each vintage of each variety analyzed.

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