A coalition of consumer groups has sued the United States (U.S.) Treasury Department to obtain a decision on mandatory alcohol content, calorie, ingredient, and allergen labeling on alcohol products.
In 2003, a coalition including the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), and the National Consumers League (NCL) and 66 other organizations and eight individuals, including four deans of schools of public health petitioned the Treasury Department. They called on the Department to include mandatory, comprehensive, and uniform labeling on alcohol products.
19 years later the U.S. Treasury Department is yet to take any action on mandatory alcohol product labeling. Considering the lack of action, the CSPI, CFA and NCL filed the lawsuit against the Treasury Department to speed up the process of mandatory alcohol product labeling.
As Movendi International reported previously, Grummon and Hall (2022) in a research perspective article called for better alcohol product labeling specifically regarding alcohol’s cancer risk.
As the researchers highlighted, many Americans remain unaware about alcohol’s health risks despite the heavy burden caused by the products and practices of alcohol companies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Alcohol consumption now accounts for more than 140,000 deaths per year in the U.S. or more than 380 deaths per day.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated alcohol harm, with alcohol-related deaths increasing by 25% during the first year of the pandemic as compared with the previous year.
- A national survey of U.S. adults found that nearly 70% are unaware that alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer.
The researchers point out that an effective strategy to increase population awareness about alcohol’s risks is through improved alcohol product labeling.
Need for action: Current flaws of alcohol labeling
The CSPI also highlights that in addition to the health and social harms caused by alcohol products, it is a significant source of empty calories on those who consume alcohol. Despite this fact, current alcohol product labeling is not required to mention calorie information.
Alcohol product labeling is currently also not required to include ingredient information. This puts countless Americans who may need to avoid certain ingredients at risk. It also infringes on the consumer right to know about about the products they may decide to purchase.
While most food and beverage products in the U.S. are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, most alcohol products are regulated by the Treasury Department. Instead of implementing mandatory alcohol product labeling, the Treasury Department has put in place a voluntary scheme for alcohol product labeling. This gives alcohol companies the choice of what information to include in their product labeling.
Voluntary alcohol industry product labeling is failing people and communities. Most alcohol labels do not include the necessary information on calorie content and ingredients or health warnings.
As researchers Grummon and Hall (2022) highlighted, alcohol product warning labels are most effective when:
- They are displayed prominently on the front of product packaging,
- Include pictorial elements such as photographs or icons, and
- Rotate the content of their messages to avoid any one message becoming “stale.”
The current alcohol warning in the U.S. lacks all the key elements of evidence-based warning design.
- It uses small text.
- Typically appears on the back or side of product packaging.
- Doesn’t include any pictorial elements.
- The warning message is also static, having remained unchanged since the label was first implemented more than three decades ago.
The current voluntary U.S. alcohol product warning labels also use outdated science regarding alcohol’s harms.
- It does not warn against cancer.
- It does not mention alcohol consumption is linked to a wide range of diseases from liver disease to pancreatitis to some types of heart disease.
- The existing label focuses only on risks during pregnancy and the risks associated with operating machinery.
- It only notes that alcohol “may cause health problems,” language that is so understated that it borders on being misleading.
The problem is many manufacturers have decided they can sell more by telling consumers less,” said Lisa Mankofsky, litigation director, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), as per their website.Lisa Mankofsky, litigation director, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)
Big Alcohol does everything to keep people in the dark
Alcohol industry interference in alcohol policy making in the U.S. is behind the lack of mandatory alcohol product labeling with evidence-based up to date health warnings. Researchers Grummon and Hall (2022) reported on how the alcohol industry continues to misinform the public on alcohol risks and thwart efforts improved alcohol product labeling.
Currently most of the information available on alcohol products come from the alcohol industry through its own marketing and voluntary labeling. The alcohol industry suppresses efforts to educate consumers about the health risks linked to their products, including by thwarting attempts by various governments to adopt more transparent alcohol-labeling policies.
The fact that most Americans are unaware about alcohol’s major health risks and that information on alcohol products is largely controlled by the alcohol industry is not a coincidence.
Consumers have a right to know what’s in the beverages they drink, whether those beverages are alcoholic or not,” said Thomas Gremillion, Director of Food Policy for CFA, as per CSPI website.
Standard labeling requirements are commonsense and the federal government’s 19-year delay in responding to this petition is a shameful reflection of Big Alcohol’s influence on policymakers.”Thomas Gremillion, Director of Food Policy, Consumer Federation of America (CFA)