Pleading blissful ignorance to the calories in alcohol will get a bit harder by 2020.
On July 12, 2016, the Beer Institute, a national trade association representing over 3,300 U.S. brewers, announced a voluntary initiative to add nutrition labels to beer by the end of 2020, as an effort to promote quality and transparency. Members of the Beer Institute include beer bigwigs Heineken USA, MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch, and they’ve all agreed to jump onboard with the beer labeling initiative. This is what it will look like.
3 Components of the Beer Nutrition Label
According to the Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative, participating brewers and importers, large and small, will be encouraged to add three key items to all of their product labels, packaging and/or websites:
- Nutrient content: Calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat and alcohol by volume (ABV; the volume of alcohol as a percentage of the total volume of an alcoholic drink) will be displayed on a label consistent with 2013 rules set by the Department of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau for voluntary nutrient content statements.
- List of Ingredients: Most beers contain four base ingredients: water, brewer’s yeast, grains and hops. With the new initiative, beer drinkers can learn exactly what else goes into their favorite drinks through a label, website link or QR code. This will be particularly helpful for individuals with allergies.
- Freshness: Production dates will allow consumers to keep tabs on freshness.
Why This Labeling Initiative Matters
In a recent survey by the Harris Poll, 73% of drinkers said they think it’s important to read nutrition labels. Most consumers seem to want to know what’s in the alcohol they’re drinking, so the alcohol industry is facing pressure to add nutrition info to their products. In response, the beer division is taking the lead.
So, why not treat alcohol like any other beverage and stick a Nutrition Facts label on it? Because it’s not required. Congress has taken great care not to mislead consumers into thinking that alcohol is nutritious. The FDA oversees food labeling, while the TTB handles alcohol labeling, but where the line is drawn between these two agencies is unclear. Case in point: The FDA regulates any beer not made of malted barley, that’s instead made with grains such as sorghum, rice or wheat.
Many people don’t think twice about the calories they consume when they drink alcohol, for an obvious reason — most alcoholic beverages are not required to have a nutrition label. Of all the different alcohol types (Think: wine, hard liquor, etc), beer contains the most calories ounce for ounce. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that 12 fluid ounces of 5% ABV regular beer is the equivalent of one alcoholic drink. Nutritionally, that beer is 147 calories, with 12 grams carbohydrates, 1.5 grams protein and 0 grams fat.
Regardless of whether there is a label, alcoholic beverages should be enjoyed in moderation. Unlike foods that provide valuable vitamins and minerals in addition to calories, alcohol is a source of empty calories and can potentially increase health risks.
Do you think providing calorie information on beer will change people’s drinking decisions? Let us know in the comments below!