The federal government put forth last week two proposals that, if passed, would require all alcoholic beverages sold in the United States to carry alcohol content statements and serving-facts panels on their labels. According to a statement issued by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (a division of the Department of the Treasury), under the proposed amendments to existing regulations, winemakers, beer brewers and spirits distillers would be legally obligated to provide information about calorie content, carbohydrates, fats and proteins in their products.
The proposals "are intended to ensure that alcohol beverage labels provide consumers with adequate information about the product," according to the TTB's statement. The proposal represents the latest in a series of changes to alcohol beverage labeling policy. In 2003, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (the agency formerly charged with regulating alcohol policy) granted wine producers permission to include carefully worded statements about a wine's potential health benefits. In 2004, the government loosened regulations to allow beverage producers to include information about calorie and carbohydrate information on their labeling and in their advertising. And in 2005, the TTB began considering the possibility of mandatory nutrition and alcohol labeling.
The proposal has met with support in some circles, nonprofit and for-profit alike. The National Consumers League, a public advocacy group, issued a statement in support of both alcohol content statements and nutritional facts panels. "We are greatly encouraged by this proposed rulemaking, which shows progress in bringing alcohol regulation up to date with other consumer products," said NCL president Linda Golodner in the statement.
Global beverage giant Diageo released its own laudatory statement shortly after the announcement of the proposal. Diageo has led what it calls a "consumer rights movement" since 2003, agitating for the right of alcohol beverage manufacturers to include information about carbohydrates, calories and serving sizes on product labels.
However, reaction from the winemaking community has been mixed. "This is one of those 'user-stupid' regulations that don't add value [for] anyone in the system," said Ridgely Evers, who produces wine in Healdsburg, Calif., under the DaVero label. He added, "Alcohol content is already on the bottle, and macronutrients and calorie content are difficult to assess accurately in small lots of wine in a cost-effective way."
Gene Pierce, president of Glenora Wine Cellars, in New York's Finger Lakes region, called the issue "a double-edged sword." Though he believes that mandatory labeling laws would represent a financial burden for small producers, Pierce said, "On the other hand, we promote our wines as agricultural products and part of a healthy lifestyle." As consumers seek more information about the foods and beverages they choose, said Pierce, "we need to be responsive to the marketplace."
Bill Nelson, president of WineAmerica, a national trade organization, said that the organization "will oppose mandatory nutrition labeling," calling it "an enormous burden both financially and in terms of labor, for small winemakers." WineAmerica first submitted a position paper to the TTB in 2005, in which the case is made against mandatory labeling.
The TTB is accepting comments on this issue until Oct. 29, 2007. According to TTB spokesman Arthur Resnick, any further action will depend on the substance of the comments received. "There's the possibility that … we'll extend the comment period," said Resnick. "There's the possibility that we'll move to a final rule. … We might redo the whole thing and create another notice of proposed rulemaking. Until we … see what's been offered, there's really no way to tell what we'll do or how long it will take."
Those wishing to submit comments may do so through http://www.regulations.gov, or by mail at Director, Regulations and Rulings Division, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, P.O. Box 14412, Washington, D.C. 20044-4412.
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