The Bumpy Road to Nutrition Labeling for Alcohol

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image via Wear Your Beer

 

Think about it– everything has a label.
Every box, bag, can, and bottle; if it’s meant to be be consumed it’s required to have a a rundown of ingredients and calories, fats and carbs. Everything but alcohol. For years labels weren’t even allowed.

For an explanation, you have to go all the way back to Prohibition.

The Food and Drug Administration was already in place regulating what we eat and drink, but Congress, recognizing the tax potential, assigned oversight of the newly legal alcoholic beverages to the Treasury Department under the auspices of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and passed the Federal Alcohol Administration Act of 1935, which is still in force.

The TTB holds beer, wine, and liquor manufacturers to very different labeling standards than other food and beverage makers.
TTB standards have never included the nutrition facts you see everywhere else. Beer makers were actually forbidden from putting alcohol content information on their labels, finally suing for the right to do so in 1987. There are some arcane legal distinctions that put labels on the food content of things like low-alcohol wine, light and gluten-free beer, and hard cider, but you’d have a tough time hunting down the carbohydrates in Chardonnay or the sugar content of Jim Beam.

Between the obesity epidemic and rampant food intolerances, consumers shouldn’t be kept in the dark.
Fortunately we’re finally moving toward greater transparency, helped along by the Affordable Care Act, which requires most multi-outlet restaurants and food and beverage retailers to post calorie information for all menu items, including alcoholic beverages. Last May, the TTB lifted its mind-boggling ban on nutrition labels and adopted an interim policy of voluntary disclosures in advertising and on packaging for beer, wine, and spirits. Mandatory labeling can’t be far behind.

For now we have to satisfy ourselves with the rather sketchy information provided by the government’s National Nutrition Database for Standard Reference. It’s a humorously arbitrary, semi-useful assortment of nutrition facts offering vague profiles of wine (simply ‘red’ or ‘white’), generic averages of beer (‘regular’ or ‘light’), but gives a detailed analysis of three different recipes for a whiskey sour and includes one mysterious entry for ‘tequila sunrise, canned.’

 

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