Calorie labelling for alcohol splits opinion

A government proposal to end the current exemption for alcohol products from calorie labelling requirements has received a mixed response from health campaigners and industry bodies.

The Alcohol Health Alliance said the decision was “very welcome”, adding that the fact a large glass of white wine contains the same calories as a slice of pizza showed why alcohol products should be included in the government’s new plan to tackle the obesity crisis.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), by contrast, said the measures would add “burdensome red tape” at a time when brewers and pubs are trying to get back on their feet post covid-19 lockdown. It added that many UK brewers have already committed to voluntarily providing calorie information on their labels.

Estimates suggest alcohol accounts for nearly 10% of the calories consumed by those that drink it. Despite this, unlike packaged food items, in the UK alcoholic drinks are not required to provide any information about how many calories they contain.

The government said it would consult before the end of the year on its intention to make companies provide calorie labelling on all pre-packaged alcohol they sell so that consumers have the information they need to make healthier choices. The consultation will also cover introducing calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks sold in the out-of-home sector, for example bought on draught or by the glass.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said alcohol was a factor in more than 200 health conditions and was the leading risk factor of death among 15-49 year olds in England. “Labelling on all alcohol products with prominent health warnings, low-risk drinking guidelines, information on ingredients, nutrition and calories would help equip the public with the knowledge they need to make healthier decisions about what and how much they drink,” he said.

However, Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said in many cases UK brewers were already responding to consumer demand for calorie information by voluntarily committing to provide the information on labels. “Making calorie labelling mandatory for all beer, including draught beer, is unnecessary and burdensome at a time where many smaller brewers are struggling to recover from the impacts of the pandemic,” she added.

Instead, McClarkin urged the government “to look at more collaborative ways to work with our sector”, including promoting the growing range of low and no alcohol beers.

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