UK Government

Department of Health: DRINKS INDUSTRY MUST DO BETTER ON LABELLING

Press Release   •   Feb 15, 2010 11:09 GMT

Latest data shows 85 per cent of drinks not labelled properly

The drinks industry is failing to adhere to a voluntary agreement with Government on alcohol labels and just 15 per cent of drinks give consumers enough information about units and health harms, according to an independent report published today.

Under the voluntary agreement forged by the Government in 2007 the industry agreed to putting five key pieces of information on labels: unit information; pregnancy advice; a message about responsible drinking, a logo and link for Drinkaware; and the NHS recommended limits.

However, results continue to be disappointing even though they show signs of improvement on 2008, when only six per cent of labels met the standard.

Sections of the industry have performed extremely well and others have committed to speeding up the process. However, taking account of labels ‘in the pipeline’ would still mean only 19 per cent of labels will be up to scratch in 2010.

Labelling is a crucial part of helping people make informed decisions about how much they drink and what the risks could be of drinking too much on a regular basis. To cement the way forward, the Government is launching a consultation asking for views on how best to improve unit and health information on the labels. It offers three options to move forward:

  • do nothing and continue with the current voluntary agreement;
  • renew and strengthen the self regulatory agreement; or
  • introduce a mandatory requirement on labelling.

Acknowledging the efforts some producers have made, Public Health Minister Gillian Merron said:

"Despite responsible efforts from some brands such as Bulmers, Fosters, Kronenbourg and the major supermarkets, overall progress on labelling is very disappointing.

“Whilst there should be no need to bring in legislation when the industry can clearly sort it out themselves, we will not hesitate to act decisively if industry does not deliver.

“I expect to see much more leadership from more of the major producers.

“We know that too many are drinking at harmful levels and producers should play their part in helping to stem this tide by ensuring we all have access to clear and consistent health information on labels.”

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said:

"We have now received assurances to comply from most of the major manufacturers and retailers.

“I invite industry as a whole to deliver on these assurances, and look forward to finding a way to make this happen during the consultation."

The cider sector has made substantial progress and we can expect further roll-out of the label content expected in the voluntary agreement. This is also true of supermarket ‘own label’ products.

Some major beer producers are also making good progress, with Heineken and Molson Coors providing good quality information on their labels.

Despite these improvements, sections of the drinks industry still have much more to do to live up to their agreement.

Notes to editors

  • A voluntary agreement  on labelling was entered into with Industry in 2007
  • The Independent Monitoring on the Implementation of Alcohol labelling was carried out for DH by Campden BRI.
  • The information was gathered in April 2009 alongside a new consultation on options to improve labelling.
  • The DH Consultation starts today and runs until 9 May 2010.
  • The Independent Monitoring Report and Consultation can be accessed here. http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publichealth/Healthimprovement/Alcoholmisuse/DH_112472
  • The four elements of information included in the voluntary agreement were:
  • i.        the drink’s unit content, to the nearest decimal point; unit content must always be shown per container; for wine and spirits, this may be shown in addition per 125ml wine glass or per 25ml spirits glass

    ii.      the recommended Government lower-risk drinking guidelines: “UK Chief Medical Officers recommend men do not regularly exceed 3-4 units daily and women, 2-3 units daily

    iii.    the website address of the independent charity, the Drinkaware Trust – www.drinkaware.co.uk – or as an alternative, the Drinkaware logo as set out at Annex A (iii)

    iv.     “Know Your Limits” or “Enjoy Responsibly” or ‘Drink Responsibly’ as heading

    Those producers willing to do so were encouraged to include:

    v.       the short version of the reworded alcohol in pregnancy message as agreed by the four Chief Medical Officers of the United Kingdom:
    "Avoid alcohol if pregnant or trying to conceive".

    Contacts

    NDS Enquiries
    Phone: For enquiries please contact the above department
    ndsenquiries@coi.gsi.gov.uk