Nutritional Labels May Be Coming to a Liquor Bottle Near You

Do you want to know how many calories are in your favorite bottle of booze?

Nutritionists cite the obesity epidemic. Consumer groups reason that the public has a right to know. And though many groups, including beverage companies themselves, have been fighting for this right for a decade, it is only as of last week that the Federal Government began allowing liquor companies to display nutritional information on their bottles.

Why has this been such a long time coming? The reason goes back to the end of prohibition, when Congress passed the Federal Alcohol Administration Act in 1935. Still in effect, the act deemed alcohol the domain of the Treasury department and established the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The TTB has nothing to do with the Food & Drug Administration or its labeling requirements. Instead focused on generating tax revenue, the TTB has only ever mandated that distilled spirits and certain wine be labeled with percentage of alcohol.

This brings us to today, when food policy activists and top nutritionists like Marion Nestle have been questioning the laws. As she wrote in the San Francisco Gate in 2010, “The alcohol beverage industry prefers that you not think about what’s in their products. And Congress does not want alcohol marketed as nutritious.” That certainly makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that wines with less than 7 percent alcohol and beers not made from barley do fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA, and therefore must display a nutrition label. Inconsistent much?

As the new, temporary ruling stands, liquor companies, wineries, and beer manufacturers may include nutritional labels on their products, but only if they want to; understandably, consumer groups aren’t too happy with this because the ruling errs on the side of the beverage companies. And, since nothing is mandatory, it’s likely that many beer and wine producers (unless they’re marketing their products as low calorie or healthy) will pass on this option for now. Until the TTB reaches its final decision, drink to Thomas Gray’s famous words: Ignorance is bliss.