Ingredients & nutrition: we are committed to give consumers meaningful information

The Commission’s report on ingredient and nutrition labelling of alcoholic beverages was finally published earlier this month.  In assessing the current situation, it was useful that the Commission acknowledged the many initiatives through which spirits producers are, increasingly, providing information to consumers which goes beyond legal requirements.  The trend of such initiatives is clearly rising and underpins the sector’s longstanding commitment to supply additional information in this area. 

In recognition of the steps already taken, the report invited the alcoholic beverage sector as a whole to submit a proposal, within a year, for a self-regulatory plan to provide ingredient and nutrition information to consumers.  We welcome the Commission’s conclusions and look forward to working constructively with other sectors in preparing the proposal.  This will inevitably require much discussion between the sectors.  But the Commission also needs to help; while its report clearly indicates the need for more information to be given on nutrition, it does not help clarify how this should be delivered.

Alcoholic beverages are currently exempt from nutrition labelling because, partly, of the difficulties in presenting the information in a meaningful way.  The requirement for the energy of most other foodstuffs to be given per 100ml is wholly unsuitable for alcoholic beverages: for the average consumer it would massively understate the energy content of beer and overstate it for spirits.   An energy declaration per 100ml makes it appear beer is the least calorific alcoholic beverage and spirits the most.  The reverse is true when comparable serving sizes are used, i.e. a measure that consumers would easily recognise.   The use of 100ml would also contradict official sensible drinking messages and policies throughout Europe.  

So, while we will be fully engaged in the forthcoming debate, we also need the Commission to be state unequivocally that the end result of the current discussions should be to ensure consumers receive information that is meaningful.   That is, after all, the whole purpose of this exercise.