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Booze Could Come With Nutritional Labeling

The Treasury Department is considering a new rule that would require companies to put alcoholic content, serving sizes and nutritional information on all alcoholic drink packaging.

According to the proposed rule being published Tuesday for public comment, labels on all alcoholic beverages — from beer cans to wine bottles — would include a statement of the drink's percentage of alcohol by volume.

The labels would also include a "serving facts" panel, which would list the number of calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein for a standard serving size.

Companies could also choose to disclose the amount of pure alcohol, or ethyl alcohol, per serving.

Currently, liquor and wine labels must include at least the percentage of alcohol by volume, but that information is not allowed on beer labels except in states that require it. However, if a brewer wants its beer to be labeled as a "light" beer, the label must show its caloric content and the percent of alcohol per volume.

Guy Smith, executive vice president at Diageo PLC, which sells brands including Smirnoff, Jose Cuervo and Guinness, called the proposal "a giant and very positive step in the right direction" for the alcohol industry.

"Overwhelmingly people want this kind of information on the package," Smith said.

Smith said Diageo studied the issue and heard from a number of consumers questioning why bottles didn't include the information.

"This is the year 2007, and it ought to be on there," Smith said. "Our industry has not changed as quickly as it probably should have."

But it may be some time before companies are forced to comply with the proposed regulation. The Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau will gather comments on the proposed rule through Oct. 29. The bureau will then review the comments and decide whether to make the rule official.

The department said in the proposal that it would make the information labels mandatory three years after a final rule is published.

Although the Food and Drug Administration regulates information labels on groceries and medications, the Treasury Department has jurisdiction over alcoholic-beverage labeling in all but a few cases.

The push for a more comprehensive label began in 2003 when the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the National Consumers League and more than 70 other groups and companies — including Diageo — petitioned the bureau to change the regulation.

The Treasury Department published an "advance notice," which informs the public that the agency is considering changing the rule, and it received more than 19,000 comments. It has taken until now for the bureau to read the comments and make adjustments to the rule.

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