Pushing for better labeling of alcohol


By Brian Brown

Greenville Council

As a Councilman for Greenville, Ohio, a city of over 10,000 people near the state’s western border and as a paramedic in the community, the safety of our residents is one of my highest personal and professional commitments.

That’s why I feel compelled to shine a light on regulatory proposals presently before the Treasury Department and its Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The proposals under “Labeling and Advertising of Wine, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages with Alcohol Content, Nutritional Information, Major Food Allergens, and Ingredients” are many, but mainly deal with inconsistencies in the requirements of ingredient and nutritional labeling on alcoholic beverages.

These long-stagnant proposed regulations could save the lives ofmany people with acute food allergies who, finally, would have access to the warnings they need.

To my astonishment, I learned that some hard liquor manufacturers are not required to disclose the full information about their products’ ingredients. One example of this is the so-called “recognized cocktail exception” that is applied to pre-made cocktails. Only the known ingredients of these products need to be listed. Manufacturers can add weird ingredients, fillers, and flavorings without actually telling consumers. An even more distressing example is an obscure section of the tax code that not only allows multination hard liquor distillers to add flavorings and wine to hard liquor without telling consumers, but even permits the, to claim a tax break for “importing” those secret ingredients into the U.S.

Approximately ten percent of Americans have an allergy or intolerance to wine, to say nothing of other additives they might unknowingly consume under these lax regulations. Requiring large alcohol and distillery companies to publicly disclose ingredients in their beverage products is a modest request that will save lives.

Other information, like alcohol content, might technically be disclosed, but only using confusing industry jargon like “proof gallon” and “alcohol by volume,” terms that don’t really tell consumers anything useful.

In my line of work, we are always looking to scale back preventable injuries or negative food or alcohol reactions. Our time and energy are best used addressing catastrophic accidents. I hope the TTB agrees to update its labeling requirements in the name of public health and safety. The agency should adopt a model of consumer products that includes ingredients and nutritional information and apply it to all players in the alcohol industry.

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