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A New Year's resolution


Global drinks company Diageo has responded to consumer demands for better labelling of alcoholic drinks. The group says that it will begin providing consumers in the US with important product information next year. The move comes in response to a recent petition sent to the Tax and Trade Bureau of the US Treasury Department (TTB).

"Diageo is a consumer-focused company," said Guy L. Smith, Diageo executive vice president. "Starting in 2004, Diageo North America will begin providing American consumers with alcohol content, serving size, macro-nutrients, carbohydrates and calories for its products. This consumer data will be included on our websites, in printed promotional materials, and ultimately on packaging materials."

The proposal for a uniform alcohol facts label was submitted by the National Consumers League (NCL), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and a total of 67 other consumer groups. The petition was sent to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The petition urges the agency to require a new label for alcoholic beverages that would give consumers clear information about alcohol content, serving sizes, calories, and ingredients.


The groups argue that alcohol facts labels will do for alcoholic beverages what nutrition facts labels have done for packaged food - provide readable information that would empower consumers to make informed decisions about the products they consume.


In addition, the coalition argues that the rules governing alcoholic-beverage labelling suffer from jurisdictional gaps between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), formerly the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms). For example, the FDA can weigh in on alcoholic- beverage labeling in only a small number of cases. And in addition, say these organisations, TTB has no institutional expertise in diet or nutrition.


Diageo says that it has endorsed many of the proposals by the coalition of consumer groups that sent the petition. "We applaud the coalition of consumer advocacy organisations for their proposals to provide increased product information to consumers and endorse its intent and purposes," said Smith.


Diageo North America, however, remains opposed any mandatory requirements on labelling. "More government regulation is just not necessary," said Smith. "Voluntary approaches to providing consumer information will work. Broad mandates from government are not called for."


Diageo's North American advertising and marketing code mandates responsibility messages on all its advertising and marketing materials. "Diageo's voluntary labeling also gives the consumer the information they want about carbs, calories, alcohol content and serving size in order to make comparisons across beverage alcohol," said Smith.


"Certainly there are some people who should not drink alcohol beverages at all and that is a decision that they and their personal physician should make. And, all adult consumers who choose to drink should drink alcohol responsibly, in moderation."


He added that Diageo North America would continue to carefully study consumer attitudes and interests. "We expect to conduct continuing research, learning from consumers about their desires for this type of information. We expect to move forward thoughtfully, making sure we provide consumers with meaningful information in the best, least confusing ways possible. We will also be developing our global policy on consumer info during the course of 2004."


Diageo makes beer, wine and spirit products, with more than 300 brands sold in nearly 200 countries around the world.