Hidden Calories: The Government's Failure to Label Alcohol

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The FDA had planned to require restaurants to post cocktail calorie information—but somehow the idea disappeared

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In April, the FDA released proposed rules for listing calories on menu labels (see previous post). One surprising omission was an exemption for alcoholic beverages. The FDA had included alcoholic beverages in earlier versions.

The FDA's reason for omitting alcohol is that these drinks are regulated by the Treasury Department, which proposed rules for calories on the labels of such drinks. Yes it did, but that was at least four years ago and Treasury has done nothing since. And Treasury has never said a word about menu boards.

Jurisdiction cannot be the real reason. The FDA does not regulate meat and poultry (the U.S. Department of Agriculture does) but its proposed regulations cover those foods.

If you think the FDA should require restaurants to display calories for alcoholic beverages, now is the time to say so.

I think consumers' right to know is a sufficient reason for demanding calorie labeling on alcoholic beverages, but if you want more, the Marin Institute lists useful talking points.

  • Alcoholic beverages contain calories and few nutrients.
  • It is difficult for drinkers to calculate the number of calories contained in a specific alcoholic beverage on their own.
  • Congress did not explicitly exclude alcoholic beverages from food labeling requirements.
  • The FDA has jurisdiction over the regulation of alcoholic beverages for health purposes.
  • The TTB [Treasury Department agency] continually fails to act regarding the labeling of alcoholic beverages.
  • Exempting small alcohol producers can remove burden of obtaining nutritional information.

If you are convinced by these arguments, or have others of your own, be sure to share them with FDA. Do it right away. The deadline is June 6.


This post also appears on Food Politics.
Image: flickr4jazz/flickr

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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