Nutrition Facts, Supplement Facts, Drug Facts…… Alcohol Facts? For a number of years, alcoholic beverages have been the only category of consumable product that does not bear basic product information in a consumer-friendly form. Conventional foods have Nutrition Facts; dietary supplements have Supplement Facts; and OTC drugs have Drug Facts. But, alcoholic beverages have…. mystery. While most (but not all) alcoholic beverages are required to list percent alcohol by volume (%ABV) or proof, you have to perform mathematical calculations in your head to know how many standard drinks you have consumed.
On February 12th, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued an order that may dramatically alter the beverage alcohol labeling landscape. To settle a complaint against Phusion Projects, LLC, the maker of Four Loko, the FTC has issued an order that requires Four Loko flavored malt beverages containing more than two servings of alcohol to carry an “Alcohol Facts” panel on the back of the container. The Alcohol Facts panel must include the beverage’s serving size, number of servings per container, container size, %ABV, and the following statement: “According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, a serving contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol.”
While the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the agency that regulates labeling of alcoholic beverages, must approve the Alcohol Facts panel on Four Loko labels, one would think that the FTC cleared this requirement with the TTB before including it in its order. And if TTB approves the Alcohol Facts panel on Four Loko labels, that should open the door for other bottlers to use it on their products voluntarily.
Why is this important? The Alcohol Facts panel will enable consumers to easily determine how many standard drinks are in a can or bottle. For example, if the Alcohol Facts panel says a can or bottle contains 4 servings and that each serving contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol (i.e., a standard drink), then a consumer knows that the product contains the alcohol equivalent of four regular beers, four glasses of wine, or four shots of distilled spirits. With this information, consumers can better modulate their alcohol intake.
Alcohol Facts labels will enable consumers to:
- Follow the Dietary Guidelines advice on moderate drinking. The Dietary Guidelines recommends that men consume no more than two, and women no more than one, drink(s) per day on average. A drink is defined as the amount of beer, wine, or spirits that contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol.
- Follow the FDA’s warnings on aspirin and acetaminophen, which state: “If you consume 3 or more alcoholic drinks per day, ask your health professional whether you should take acetaminophen or other pain relievers…”
- Avoid the many problems associated with over-consumption of alcohol, including alcohol abuse and drunk driving.
Almost ten years ago, the consumer groups National Consumers League, Consumer Federation of America, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Shape Up America! petitioned TTB to require an Alcohol Facts panel on labels of all alcoholic beverages. TTB published a proposed rule in 2007, received literally thousands of comments from the public in support, but never finalized it. It’s possible the FTC order may give the TTB rulemaking new life.