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Groups Rip Watered Down Alcohol Labels

Health and consumer groups Tuesday called on the
government to require alcoholic beverages to carry nutrition labeling similar to what foods and other
drinks must carry.

The call comes as federal regulators are mulling a 30-year-old request to
require beer, wine, and liquor labels to inform consumers about alcohol
content, calories, and carbohydrate content.

Many alcoholic beverages carry government warnings concerning the dangers of
drinking while pregnant . Some list calories on packaging on a voluntary

"It's not standardized; it's something consumers have to look for,"
said Christopher Waldrop, director of the Consumer Federation of America's Food
Policy Institute. "The only consumer product which lacks a label is
alcoholic beverages."

Last July, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)
proposed listing calories and nutrients on drink labels. But the agency avoided
requiring companies to list the amount of alcohol in the container.

A 'Standard Drink'

U.S. dietary guidelines urge men not to exceed two "standard drinks"
per day and women not to exceed one. But health groups said regulators'
proposed label doesn't display a "standard drink" size to help
consumers meet recommended daily alcohol intake.

A standard drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of
80-proof distilled spirits. Each of those drinks contains 0.6 ounces of

"A pint of beer is more than a standard drink," said J.T. Griffin,
MD, a past president of the National Medical Association, a group of
African-American and other minority physicians.

TTB spokesman Art Resnick told WebMD that the agency is reviewing thousands
of comments made on the proposed rule. He would not predict when the regulators
would issue final regulations governing alcohol labels.

"It's not without controversy, and it is incumbent on us to look at all
the competing interests here," he said.

No 'Public Health Mandate'

The TTB first began considering nutrition labeling for alcoholic beverages
in the 1970s, but regulations were never finalized as presidents came and left
the White House.

On Tuesday, groups said giving consumers more information about standard
drink sizes and alcohol content would help prevent overconsumption and protect
public health. But Resnick said the TTB, which is part of the U.S. Treasury
Department, only requires that alcohol labels are "accurate, truthful, and
not misleading."

"We don't have a public health mandate," he said.

The Distilled Spirits Council, an industry trade group, issued a statement
supporting stricter labeling for alcoholic beverages.

"Knowing how much alcohol is in a serving of beer, wine, or spirits and
how that alcohol content relates to a standard drink helps consumers make
responsible drinking decisions," Peter H. Cressy, the group's president,
said in the statement. 

By Todd Zwillich
Reviewed by Louise Chang
©2005-2008 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved

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