Public call for health warnings on alcohol labels

7th January 2015:

Research from the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA) has shown that the overwhelming majority of the British public support more nutritional and health information on alcohol product labels, as well as a warning not to drink when pregnant. The UK-wide survey found that 83% of people support information on how alcohol can impact on health and 87% support a warning that when pregnant, the safest option is to avoid alcohol completely. Bill Esterson MP will lead a debate on pregnancy and labelling of alcoholic products in the House of Commons this afternoon.

Under current EU legislation, food products and soft drinks are subject to labelling regulations which mean that information covering ingredients and nutritional value is mandatory. Alcohol, despite being classified by the World Health Organisation as a group 1 carcinogen, is exempt from existing legislation. Under the government’s Responsibility Deal, some alcohol manufacturers have pledged to include more information on product labels however this is completely voluntary, unregulated and any health messages are often lost in the small print and existing labels do not provide any information about ingredients.

The AHA survey also found that whilst 91% of people believe that it is important to know how alcohol can affect health, under half (47%), were aware of the links between alcohol and cancer. Less than a third of people were aware of the links between alcohol and breast cancer (31%) and only half were aware of the link between alcohol and mouth/throat cancer (50%).

Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK and Special Advisor on Alcohol to the Royal College of Physicians, said:

“The complete lack of health information on many alcohol products is indefensible. It’s not right that labelling is mandatory for a box of corn flakes but not for alcoholic products which can seriously harm health. The public should have this information to allow them to make an informed choice. It’s about time the government took action to make this possible and started listening to the people rather than big business”.

Katherine Brown, Director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said:

“This research shows that the public are largely unaware of the health risks associated with alcohol and in particular, the links between alcohol and cancer. The public have a right to know what they are putting into their bodies, and there is a public appetite for this information. The government should take action to extend mandatory labelling to alcoholic products to ensure that drinkers are not kept in the dark and potentially put at risk”.

In order to allow consumers to make better judgements about the risks of their drinking choices, the AHA recommends:

  • Every alcohol product should describe, in legible type, the product’s nutritional, calorie and alcohol content
  • At least one third of every alcohol product label should be given over to a mandatory evidence-based health warning specified by an independent regulatory body
  • All alcoholic products should state on the label that, when pregnant, the safest option is to avoid alcohol completely