On 27 April, a debate about alcohol labelling took place in Westminster.

The debate highlighted:

  • Alcohol is exempt from the labelling requirements for food and non-alcoholic drinks. Alcoholic drinks are only required to display the volume and strength (in ABV) and common allergens.

  • Information on nutritional values (including calories), ingredients, health warnings or even how many units of alcohol the product contains is not required and is therefore largely absent from labels.

  • Opinion polling conducted for the Alcohol Health Alliance shows that the public overwhelming support having more information on labels, including ingredients, calories and health warnings.

  • The Government is planning a consultation on calorie labelling for alcoholic drinks.

Dan Carden MP, who proposed the debate, called the Government consultation on alcohol labelling—part of the obesity strategy— “a welcome positive step” that would help consumers make more informed choices about their own health and wellbeing.

He continued: “There is a strong case for displaying calorie information on alcohol labels. For those who drink, alcohol accounts for nearly 10% of their daily calorie intake. Around 3.4 million adults consume an additional day’s worth of calories each week, yet 80% of the public are unaware of the calorie content of the most common alcoholic drinks.”

“As we know that alcohol damages health and causes harm, it is inexplicable that alcohol products face less regulation than fruit juices and fizzy drinks, so the Government’s consultation is timely and important.”

Jim Shannon MP stated that he believes the “perfect storm” of coronavirus, isolation and lockdown has contributed to the rise in alcohol harm. He said improved alcohol labelling would “remind people of the number of units per bottle, make it clear that the glass of wine they are accustomed to at home is not the same as their local pub one, and make people aware of the need to reduce their intake.”

Dan Carden MP encouraged the Minister, Jo Churchill, to use the upcoming consultation as an opportunity to require wider health information on labels. He highlighted that alcohol harm is poorly understood by drinkers and argued that labels should include the Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk drinking guidelines, pregnancy warnings, drink-drive warnings and cancer warnings.

In her response, Jo Churchill told MPs the Government will launch the planned consultation on calorie labelling for alcoholic drinks “very shortly”.

She said: “We believe that people have the right to accurate information to help them to make decisions about the products that they purchase, and we are committed to ensuring that the labelling on alcohol provides that.”

In response to the announcement of a consultation on calorie labelling, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK previously said:

“The Government’s plans to consult on ending the current exemption for alcohol products from calorie labelling requirements are very welcome. When the calorie equivalent of a large glass of white wine is the same as a slice of pizza or a cocktail is the equivalent of a cheeseburger, it is clear why alcohol products should be included in the Government’s plans to tackle the obesity crisis.

“Alcohol is a factor in more than 200 health conditions and is the leading risk factor of death among 15-49 year olds in England. Labelling on all alcohol products with prominent health warnings, low risk drinking guidelines, information on ingredients, nutrition and calories would help equip the public with the knowledge they need to make healthier decisions about what and how much they drink. If we want to build a healthier, more resilient society we need to wake up to the harm alcohol does to people’s health.”

Watch the debate in full.