Food Standards Australia New Zealand considering energy labels for alcohol

Australians have been largely kept in the dark about the key ingredients in their beer and wine, but that may be about to change.

Australians have been largely kept in the dark about the hidden kilojoules in their alcohol, but that could soon change under a proposal to consider energy labels on alcoholic drinks.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) announced on Monday that it was preparing a proposal to consider including the labels.

Unlike most other packaged foods and beverages, packaged alcoholic beverages have been exempted from providing nutrition information on the label.

This means that consumers have been limited understand the energy contribution – measured in kilojoules or calories – that alcohol brings to their diet.

Alcohol is high in energy, providing 29.3 kilojoules per gram, according to the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting alcohol consumption to help manage body weight, as it is energy dense but nutrient poor.

Last year, FSANZ found that consumers misunderstood the energy content of beer, wine and spirits.

An analysis of 22 studies showed that only a minority could correctly guess a drink’s energy content (the number of kilojoules or calories) using general knowledge.

Consumers surveyed were also generally unable to correctly classify the energy content of different alcoholic beverages.

They tended to mistakenly think that wine and spirits had less energy than other alcoholic beverages.

Meanwhile, beer was mistakenly considered to be more energy-dense than other alcoholic beverages, according to FSANZ’s evidence assessment in June last year.

The Australian Brewers Association, a leading body representing Australian beer makers and drinkers, has supported FSANZ’s energy labeling initiatives.

The Obesity Policy Coalition has also supported improving labeling showing how many kilojoules a product contains.

However, he argued that labels should only include energy content because including carbohydrate or sugar content could mislead people into thinking that products low in sugar or carbohydrates were healthier – regardless of alcohol content – potentially leading them to drink more.

“Displaying energy information on the label of alcoholic products would ensure that the information is provided to consumers at the time they purchase and consume alcoholic products,” said Jane Martin, executive director of the Obesity Policy Coalition. .

“Energy labeling is particularly important with respect to alcohol given the evidence of its association with energy intake, weight gain and obesity.”

Ms Martin said public education was essential so consumers know how to use labels and understand the health effects of alcohol and its energy contribution to their diet.

“Research has found that consumers don’t understand that alcohol is the primary source of energy in most alcoholic beverages, and consumers don’t understand energy information,” she said.

“Public information campaigns on labeling are an essential part of helping consumers understand policy changes.”

The labeling of alcoholic beverages with their energy content is not specifically regulated anywhere in the world, but some countries are developing mandatory requirements in this regard.

Health experts in the UK earlier this year called for better labeling of alcohol after an independent lab analyzed 30 bottles of red, white, rose, fruit and sparkling wine from the top 10 alcohol brands. wine.

The study, commissioned by the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, found that wine could contain between zero and 59 grams of sugar per 700ml bottle, which is equivalent to eating more than four glazed donuts in one sitting.

In contrast, the World Health Organization has recommended reducing sugar intake to less than 10% of total daily energy intake, or an average of about 12 teaspoons (50 grams) of sugar per day for an adult. .

The proposal to review alcohol energy labels in Australia comes after government ministers in 2019 asked FSANZ to look into the matter.

FSANZ will consult industry on the proposal this month before releasing it for public comment later this year.

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