Date of prep: December 2020
Prescribing information and
adverse events reporting
For healthcare professionals only
Campaigners are calling on the Scottish government to set out in law labelling requirements for alcohol, amid concerns producers are not providing accurate information voluntarily.
The head of a leading Scottish alcohol charity says drinks manufacturers continue to show a “complete disregard” for providing adequate information about what is in the drinks they make.
Current legislation only requires drinks labels to show the strength of alcohol (ABV) and the volume of the bottle or can.
Any other information – including ingredients, nutritional information and health risks – is optional.
This is in stark contrast to the labelling requirements for all other food and drink products.
This means that despite alcohol being a class one carcinogen – where a causal link between consumption and cancer has been established – the law requires more information to be displayed on a pint of milk than on a bottle of wine.
Alcohol Focus Scotland’s Alison Douglas says this means the public is being denied the opportunity to make healthier choices:
“[Alcohol producers’] on-going failure to provide full and accurate information is simply unacceptable,” she says.
“We need reliable health information directly on bottles, cans and menus, where it can usefully inform our decisions.
“The public deserves better and industry has demonstrated that they won’t do this voluntarily.
We have even seen new products come onto the market in recent months that don’t provide the Chief Medical Officers’ low risk guidelines three years on.”
Ms Douglas adds that the UK government has “consistently failed to regulate” in this area and that it is now time for the Scottish government “to use its powers to set out labelling requirements for alcoholic products in law.”
Recent research by the Alcohol Health Alliance examined the labels on 424 alcohol products in shops across the UK.
More than 70% of labels did not include the Chief Medical Officers’ drinking guidelines, over three years after they were updated and a month after the deadline the industry agreed with government.
The research also found that the members of the industry-funded Portman Group – which styles itself as the alcohol industry’s ‘social responsibility body’ and ‘leader in best practice’ –were least likely to include the correct low-risk drinking guidelines, with only 2% doing so.
More than half of labels included no nutritional information while 37% of labels listed only the calorie content of the container, and only 7% displayed full nutritional content.
Nearly a quarter (24%) of labels surveyed contained misleading, out-of-date health information, such as the old UK drinking guidelines or drinking guidelines from other countries.
Meanwhile text displaying information about the number of units in a bottle or can often measured 2mm – well under the 3.5mm required to be classed as ‘easily readable’.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance 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 and 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.”
Have your say on alcohol labelling by writing to the Pharmacy in Practice editor. We will publish your contribution as a letter to the editor.
Pharmacy in Practice is a UK pharmacy publication with its roots in Scotland.