Alcohol labelling failing consumers, say campaigners

Information on nutritional values, ingredients and health warnings is not required on alcoholic drinks packaging in the UK.

14 June 2022

Alcohol labelling is failing consumers by leaving “vital” information such as ingredients and sugar content off most packaging, campaigners have said.

A survey of labels on 369 alcohol products by the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA) found some 6% displayed the sugar content and 20% provided the full list of ingredients.

Some 42% stated the calorie content and only 5% provided full nutritional information.

Previous research by the AHA found that wine can contain anywhere between zero and 15 teaspoons of free sugars per bottle.

Some 65% of products included the up-to-date chief medical officer’s drinking guidelines, with 29% not displaying any guidelines and 6% showing old or foreign guidance.

In the UK, alcoholic drinks are only required to display their alcoholic strength by volume (ABV) and common allergens on labels.

Information on nutritional values, including calories and sugar content, ingredients and health warnings is not required, with 3% of labels surveyed by the AHA carrying general health messages.

But the AHA noted that this differed from other food and drink products which are required to provide information on nutritional values and ingredients, and that most restaurant menus must now display the calorie count of meals as part of the drive to reduce obesity.

Of adults that drink, it is estimated that nearly 10% of their daily calorie intake comes from alcohol, according to the Royal Society for Public Health.

The AHA is now calling on the Government to make it a legal requirement for alcohol companies to display nutritional information and health warnings on their products.

AHA chairman Professor Sir Ian Gilmore said: “Alcohol’s continued exemption to the rules and standards followed by the rest of the food and drinks industry is detrimental to our health.

“Alcohol is not only a risk factor for cancer but it’s fuelling obesity – with some alcoholic drinks containing more calories than a Mars bar and others containing more than double your recommended daily sugar intake.

“Given the choice, most alcohol producers are leaving this vital information off the labels, keeping consumers in the dark about what’s in the products they are drinking.

“Those who profit from the sale of alcohol cannot be trusted to willingly provide product information. Legislation on alcohol labelling must ensure that consumers have the full picture of the contents and risk to health of the products they buy through Government making clear labelling on all alcohol products a legal requirement.”

Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, said: “Alcohol increases our risk of 200 health conditions and, like obesity, is a major cause of diabetes, stroke, cancer and high blood pressure. Despite this, millions of us are completely unaware of the Government’s low-risk drinking guidelines, making us unable to make informed choices about our drinking.

“It is our right, as consumers, to have the low-risk drinking guidelines clearly shown on the labels of alcoholic drinks, along with nutritional information, including calories, ingredients, the units per serving, and the risks of consuming alcohol. This would support us all to make healthier choices about our drinking.

“The Government must now step in and publish its planned consultation on alcohol labelling without further delay, and urgently act to place the regulation of alcohol labelling under democratic control.”

Matt Lambert, chief executive of alcohol social responsibility body Portman Group, said: “This report doesn’t correspond to the findings of Portman Group’s much larger and more comprehensive recent survey where we looked at 400 products including the biggest brands by market share – the ones which accurately represents what most customers are buying. That research found near universal coverage of industry best practice showing pregnancy warnings, alcohol unit information, signposts to responsibility messages, and four in five products carrying the Chief Medical Officer’s low risk guidelines.

“Industry self-regulation has been responsible for voluntarily delivering greater information and awareness for consumers and the AHA’s own report shows that significant progress has been made. The sector is firmly on track to provide more information to consumers without recourse to valuable Parliamentary time, public funding or mandatory measures”.

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