Consumer groups criticize TTB modern alcohol labels

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

94% of US adults support alcohol-content labeling on alcoholic beverages. Pic: ©GettyImages/Bill Oxford
94% of US adults support alcohol-content labeling on alcoholic beverages. Pic: ©GettyImages/Bill Oxford

Related tags Alcohol Alcoholic beverages regulations TTB

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Consumer Federation of America (CFA), and National Consumers League (NCL) say that alcohol labeling changes proposed by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TBB) 'fall dramatically short of what is needed to truly modernize alcohol labeling'.

The CSPI, CFA and NCL say that the proposals fail to require brands to put alcohol content, serving size, calories, ingredients and allergen information on labels.

The TTB recently set out plans to reorganize and recodify labeling and advertising regulations for wine, distilled spirits and malt beverages. The proposal is set out in “Modernization of the Labeling and Advertising Regulations for Wine, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages” (Notice No. 176)".

Providing consumers with information

In a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, the CSPI, CFA and NCL expressed hope that “this rulemaking will bring greater clarity and consistency to alcoholic-beverage regulation,” ​but also said that this proposal “falls dramatically short of what is needed to truly ‘modernize’ alcohol labeling.”

The organizations argue that consumers want to see alcohol content, serving size, calories, ingredients and allergen information on the labels of alcoholic beverages. But most current packaging does not reflect this.

“Not only do consumers want this information; the TTB needs it to fulfill its statutory obligation under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA) of 1935, which directs the TTB to ensure that alcohol labeling and advertising ‘provide the consumer with adequate information as to the identity and quality of the products’,”​ the groups said.

In 2003 the CSPI provided the TTB with survey data that suggested 89% of adults supported labelling of calorie content. The NCL, CSPI and 67 other organizations petitioned the TTB to require a Serving Facts Label akin to that used on packaged food and beverages.

The 2003 survey from CSPI suggested that 94% of US adults supported alcohol-content labeling on alcoholic beverages, 91% supported ingredient labeling, 89% supported labeling of calorie content, and 84% supported serving size information.

In 2006 the TTB issued proposed rules to require mandatory allergen labeling, followed by Serving Facts information in 2007. But neither rules have been finalized and most label information is voluntary.

“Consumers expect—and need—to know what they are drinking in order to make informed choices,”​ the groups said, emphasizing its importance by pointing out that “as of May 2018, calorie and key nutrition information also must be provided at chain restaurants, including for alcohol when it appears on the menu.”

The groups wrote, “While the proposed rule offers some benefits in terms of minor adjustments to labeling rules, it explicitly excludes action in the areas of most concern to consumers, ‘due to their complexity’.”

“While the TTB may believe that the issues are complex, the agency has now had over a decade to consider them, and rulemakings to provide this key information are already well underway. These rules should be prioritized under any effort to modernize alcohol labeling.”

The TTB has declined to comment to BeverageDaily on the letter, considering it is “still in active rulemaking on Notice No. 176.”

The TTB currently has an open comment period for this rulemaking, running through March 26. It’s encouraging “all interested parties and stakeholders to submit comments for the public record”​ at the official Notice portal.

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