Until now, alcoholic drinks have been void of the nutrition labels that are mandatory on other beverages.
That may change, according to a ruling last week by the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) allowing companies that sell wine, beer, and spirits to use nutrition labels on a voluntary basis. Approved labels include serving size information, along with calorie, protein, and fat content per serving.
The announcement came on the heels of lobbying efforts from unlikely allies. Consumer organizations pushed labeling to promote transparency, arguing that buyers deserve to make choices about alcohol consumption based on accurate nutrition information. Liquor companies advocated for labeling to advertise their low calorie and carbohydrate content in comparison to wine and beer.
Though TTB maintained that alcohol companies would be held responsible for "truthful, accurate, and specific voluntary statements," some consumer groups criticized the new ruling. The Center for Science in the Public Interest expressed concern that alcohol companies may use nutrition information to market their drinks misleadingly, especially if alcohol content is not prominently labeled.
Wine and beer companies are unlikely to use the new nutrition labels. Beer's calorie content has never been its main selling point, and representatives of the wine industry pointed out that paying for nutrition analysis would put smaller independent wineries at a disadvantage. From an aesthetic perspective, nutrition information would also interfere with the design of wine labels.
The new policy is only a temporary measure as TTB deliberates over permanent labeling guidelines. Consumer groups are pushing to make nutrition labels mandatory—a proposal that the TTB considered in 2007, but never finalized.