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Seeking better labeling on alcoholic drinks
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire


October 12, 2005
Wednesday PM

Knowing how much alcohol to drink is hard for Americans when, some say, there isn't enough proof provided to decide.

"Current labeling regulations for alcohol are outdated," said Barbara Moore, president of Shape Up America!

Her group is one of 75 lobbying to require alcohol facts on containers of beer, wine and liquor, whose labels currently list alcoholic content, volume and a surgeon general's warning about pregnancy and drunk driving.

The proposed information would include serving size, alcohol per serving, calories per serving, ingredients, number of standard drinks per container and advice on moderate drinking.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which regulates labeling, has declined to mandate more specific alcohol labels since 1972, when the Center for Science in the Public Interest began lobbying for the cause. A new rule now would "reverse over 30 years of foot-dragging," said Linda Golodner, president of the National Consumers League.

Right now, the bureau allows alcohol distributors to put calorie, carbohydrate, protein and fat information on containers, but most don't.

A poll conducted in 2003 by Global Strategy Group, a Washington research firm, suggests people may want and need more information on alcohol labels. Ninety percent of 550 people surveyed inaccurately estimated the number of calories in beer and malt beverages. A majority said they wanted information about serving size, calories, alcohol content and ingredients to be printed on containers.

Twelve ounces of beer contains between 100 and 200 calories, wine contains almost three times as many and liquor contains almost seven times as many.

"For the sake of weight management, this information is long overdue," Moore said. Fifty-five percent of adult Americans drink and 60 percent are overweight, she said, so to not provide caloric content "makes no sense."

Moreover, she said, there is "considerable confusion about what constitutes moderate drinking." Current U.S. dietary guidelines consider moderate drinking no more than one drink per day for women and two for men.

Such guidelines are important to note, Moore said, because moderate drinking can lower the risk of coronary heart disease, but excessive drinking can lead to a long list of health problems.

"Not only is this a consumer right," she said, "but it is a critical public health need."

Moore acknowledged the guidelines for moderate drinking are vague, considering not everyone - men, women, people of different builds and people of different ethnicities - handles alcohol the same way. For example, certain members of Asian populations lack an enzyme that hastens alcohol filtering. Essentially, they get drunk more quickly.

"We need to address those kinds of sensitivities," she said.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, about 7 million Americans suffer from food allergies. Ingredients should be listed on labels because alcohol can contain some of the most common allergens, such as sulfites, nuts, gluten, milk and eggs, Golodner said.

Though the groups' call is for immediate action, Golodner anticipates it will take several years to complete the process.

The bureau last month ended the comments phase of its labeling reconsideration. With more than 18,000 received, officials are now analyzing them and working to find a middle ground before they decide what labels should contain, an agency official involved in the process said.

Whether more specific alcohol labels would curb heavy drinking is uncertain. But Golodner said the purpose is to simply make drinkers more informed.

A better label will "increase the ability of consumers to evaluate their actual alcohol, calorie, carbohydrate and fat intake," she said. "It is likely to have beneficial effects on consumers."


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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