Calorie Labelling on Alcohol – The Industry Warns

When you are casually sipping from one of your favorite beers at the local pub, are you actively thinking about how many calories you are consuming? This question has become the focal point of a new debate regarding calorie labelling on alcoholic beverages within the United Kingdom. Recently, the Royal Society for Public Health announced that they would be actively pushing for the addition of calorie labels on the vast majority of alcoholic beverages found in pubs and bars across the country. Although it would seem that such information is unlikely to provoke controversy, the truth is somewhat more surprising.

Following this announcement, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers responded in turn, warning against the addition of these labels out of their prediction that such information would compel pub visitors to forego food in order to keep their caloric intake at a minimum. According to the ALMR chief executive, Kate Nicholls, “Customers will often save calories in some areas in order to indulge in others. What we do not want is a scenario whereby customers, particularly young women, are forgoing food in order to save calories for drinking or turning to higher strength products such as spirits in order to reduce calorie intake.”

While Nicholls’ argument is obviously well-intentioned, critics claim that the ALMR is simply worried that these new labelling conventions will reduce profit levels. The issue is, essentially, one of cash inflow, not of consumer safety. That being said, a quick review of the ALMR’s recent social outreach activity would highlight numerous programs that they have either developed or supported which not only tackle excessive calorie consumption but also alcoholism and excessive social drinking.

Nicholls, like many members of the ALMR, believe that there are more effective ways to educate and inform consumers regarding the nutritional impact of the drinks they are consuming than simply placing a label on them. Whether or not her opinions will be entertained, however, has yet to be seen. It is likely that this issue will be one of several label-related policy decisions that will be made by the UK government in the near future.