Jun 6, 201310:05 AM
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Government Wine Label Debate Comes Down to a Definite 'Maybe'
Are adult beverages a food? Do spirits, wine and beer fit into a category where the nutritional gurus at the federal government can demand a nutrition label on the bottle which relates to what the products offer in relation to all the vitamins and minerals we are supposed to intake every day?
Those questions have been kicked around Napa, St. Louis, Louisville and Washington, D.C., for quite a long time. Like many things that should be so simple, this one is not. And the importance of communicating to the consumer nutritional information for what they are putting into their mouths and beyond is clouded by political considerations. Big surprise!
At the most simplistic level, spirits, wine and beer do not have a lot of additives. And those that are there are disclosed. Wine has sulfur dioxide, some naturally occurring and a little added, to stabilize the beverage during shipping and storage. That’s noted on the label. All three products disclose the alcohol content. And most of the processes are “natural,” in that what nature has provided, such as naturally occurring yeast in the case of wine, is sent through distillation, which is heat, or fermentation, which is aging. Just about everything in these beverages comes from the ground through plant matter, or is purified water.
Still there are those “special interest” groups out there that feel disclosure of content and nutritional values will accomplish something. Sometimes these groups desire a specific outcome, like causing us to wake up and come to the conclusion that we should quit putting so many alcoholic calories or units of sugar into our bodies. I think it is fair to note here that those groups do not know many New Orleanians.
There are many reasons for the resistance to affixing nutritional labels to adult beverages. The first is there really is not a lot of real estate available on the package. That may sound lame, but it is the truth. Many wine companies are voluntarily initiating nutritional labels, however, so they must feel better to join the movement rather than fight it. Among all three products – wine, beer, spirits – the disclosure of what nutritional value the product contains really affects wine the least.
The other products, beer and spirits, are not necessarily anxious to disclose caloric information. Some craft beers are most opposed because they have high hops and grain content, which is highly caloric. If you break down on the label the high values, and you note that each bottle contains two servings, then the brewery feels you won’t step up and just guzzle down a few (more) bottles, knowing you are knocking on the door of 1500 calories just to slake your thirst. And that does not include the pretzels, the chips or the hot dogs.
In all honesty, my thought is that nutritional labels on foods are supposed to disclose nutrition stuff, like sodium, sugar, carbohydrates, vitamins, fat and protein. None of these beverages has a significant amount of these, and none of us, when drinking, are concerned about any of it anyway.
How many of you – show of hands, please! – would switch away from what you wanted to drink, knowing that malt beer has 139 calories for a 24 ounce beverage, or that red wine is 123 calories for a 5 ounce serving, or that your vodka tonic, 8 ounces, was 169 calories?
In a “be careful what you wish for” mode, some consumer advocate groups, which pushed for the labels in the first place, are now backing off that stance because they fear that the labels will make the adult beverage seem more like a food than a “drug.” They say that the Department of the Treasury made the label requirements too much in the image of what the alcohol industry wanted, rather than what they wanted.
I’ve always heard that if you want to get something done in the way you want it, don’t go to government regulators or the courts. You just never know how those bodies are going to respond.
Very recently, the Department of the Treasury, which regulates alcohol at the national level, issued a ruling that all alcohol packaging can display the nutritional information, including serving size, servings per container, calories, fat, carbohydrates and protein for that product, if the manufacturer wants to.
Yes, you read that right, and I imagine you had to read it twice. Here is a government body telling an industry, “Sure, go ahead, if that’s what you want. If you don’t want to disclose, don’t.”
It’s the “Twilight Zone” all over again.
This has come up before, in 2007. Mandatory rules were handed down, which were never made mandatory. And this latest decision, too, is part of a temporary state of conditions. Such information disclosure requirements may become permanent and mandatory at some future point. Or they may not.
Companies that make multiple products in different drink categories, like Diageo, are in a bit of a quandary. Do they disclose on some products and not others? Do they not disclose at all and take on the role of obstructionist to the regulators? Do they disclose on all products and hope that the consuming public looks upon the nutritional information like the “operating heavy machinery and pregnant women” warnings that have been there for years.
Well, here is my advice, which is every bit as good as the federal government’s ruling: If you are a consumer drinking adult beverages and you don’t know they contain alcohol and calories, maybe we should ban you from drinking these products. You obviously don’t have the good sense to handle them, or heavy machinery, properly.