The U.S. government is now allowing alcohol-beverage producers to cite calorie and carbohydrate content on their labels and in their advertising -- as long as the statements are truthful and specific.
High-end estates aren't likely to start labeling their wines with statements such as "Chateau Lite -- 30 percent fewer carbs than the other leading brand." But some wineries, particularly large, mass-market brands, could benefit by listing calorie and carbohydrate facts for diet-conscious consumers.
Last week, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued a temporary ruling on the subject to provide guidance to the industry. In particular, brewing companies have been marketing low-calorie and low-carbohydrate beers, but the new regulations also apply to spirits and wines. "We received inquiries from several wineries regarding labeling with carbohydrate claims," said TTB spokesman Art Resnick.
Late last year, beverage giant Diageo --which owns beer and spirits brands, as well as California wineries such as Beaulieu Vineyard and Sterling Vineyards -- announced that it would begin including more nutritional information on some products. And two consumer advocacy groups have been pushing for nutritional labels on alcohol beverages.
The TTB will be seeking public comment to develop a formal policy on mandatory or voluntary use of nutritional information on labels. The Wine Institute, a trade organization of California wineries, said in a statement that it "supports voluntary, as opposed to mandatory, use of these statements." The Institute noted that a considerable amount of information is already mandatory on wine labels, that wineries would have to incur extra costs to redesign labels to include new information, and that not everyone in the industry is requesting to use nutritional statements.
For now, if a producer wants to make a calorie or carbohydrate claim, the label must also include a statement of average analysis. It would list only the number of calories and the grams of carbohydrates, protein and fat per serving size, which for wine is 5 fluid ounces. (According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines published in 2000, a 5-ounce glass of wine contains, on average, about 100 calories, but that varies by the type of wine and the alcohol content.) A statement of average analysis must also accompany any brand names that include a reference to calories or carbohydrates, including the terms "light" or "lite."
As an interim standard, the term "low carbohydrate" may be used only for alcohol beverages that contain no more than 7 grams of carbohydrates per serving. And the terms "reduced carbohydrate" or "lower carbohydrate" may be used only in specific comparisons of the product to another product made by the same company, for example, "Lower carbohydrate -- 4 grams of carbohydrates per 5 fl. oz. -- less than half the carbohydrates in our [brand name] wine."
While the TTB also permits a company to make truthful calorie or carbohydrate comparisons to competitors' products, the Wine Institute's Code of Advertising Standards prohibits such comparative ads.
The TTB will be scrutinizing advertising for potentially misleading material. The bureau stressed that it prohibits statements that imply that consumption of low-carbohydrate alcohol beverages may play a healthy role in weight maintenance or a weight-loss plan, or that consumers can drink more of these beverages because they are low in calories or carbohydrates. The TTB said these statements provide incomplete information about the health effects and nutritional content of alcohol beverages.
The new ruling also does not permit the use of the terms "effective carbohydrates" and "net carbohydrates," which are intended to refer to the carbohydrates that have a demonstrated effect on blood sugar levels. The TTB believes there is not scientific consensus on the terms' validity and they could be misleading.
In 2003, the TTB issued regulations prohibiting the use of any health-related statements on alcohol beverages if the statements can create a misleading impression. All such requests are currently evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and the bureau may require disclaimers to clarify any potential confusion.
Read past news articles on wine label regulations:
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