Trade body the Portman Group has hit out at a recent report on alcohol labelling in the UK, claiming it is “utter nonsense” and based on outdated information.
The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) published its Drinking in the dark: How alcohol labelling fails consumers report this week, which is based on an audit from October 2019. The findings from October were first published by the AHA in March 2020 and have now been used as the basis for the new report.
The AHA examined labels on 424 alcohol products in shops across the UK to see whether the labels provided the chief medical officer’s (CMO) weekly guideline. The CMO currently recommends that adults do not drink more than 14 units of alcohol on a regular basis. It is optional as to whether producers include this guidance on packaging and labels.
The report claims that the CMO guidelines remain absent from more than 70% of alcohol containers across the UK, four years after they were introduced, while nearly a quarter (24%) contained misleading, out-of-date health information. The AHA also said only 2% of the Portman Group’s members included the guidelines on their labels.
In response to the AHA’s claims, John Timothy, CEO of the Portman Group, branded the report as “utter nonsense” and noted it was based on an audit from 10 months ago.
He said: “This report is utter nonsense, based on out-of-date information and the typical anti-alcohol ideology of the AHA who can’t stand the fact that the moderate majority can sensibly enjoy a drink and stick within the 14-unit guidance.”
Timothy also noted that two of its members, Heineken and Budweiser Brewing Group, which represent more than half of the UK’s beer and cider market, have full CMO guidance on more than 60% of their products.
Timothy added: “Our members are leaders in the industry, ensuring for over 30 years that the sector is responsible and in that time have seen significant declines in alcohol consumption, youth drinking, drink driving and alcohol-related crime.”
In August last year, the Portman Group called for producers to include the CMO’s 14-unit drinking guidelines on labels.
The audit also found that more than half (56%) of labels included no nutritional information. It noted that 37% of labels listed only the calorie content of the container, and 7% displayed a full nutritional information table.
The release of the AHA report comes just a month after the UK government announced it will launch a consultation regarding plans to provide calorie labelling on alcoholic beverages to tackle obesity.
The Portman Group previously said that many producers had already committed to providing nutrition and calorie information on-pack and online by 2022.
The AHA believes the current system for alcohol labelling “fails to provide consumers with adequate information to make healthy decisions about their purchases”.
Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the AHA UK, said: “Alcohol labelling in this country is woefully inadequate and not fit for purpose if we wish to build a healthier society. It is disappointing but telling that members of the Portman Group – the body purporting to promote best practice on labelling of alcohol products – are the least likely to display basic health information. It is time that health labelling is required for all products.
“The public must be granted the power to make informed decisions about their health by having access to prominent health warnings, information on ingredients, nutrition and alcohol content at the point of purchase. The industry’s reluctance to include this information on their products suggests profits are being put ahead of people’s health.”
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Author: Nicola Carruthers