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85% 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 a report published on Monday, February 15, 2010 by the Department of Health

The monitoring report, however, was carried out for the DH by Campden BRI back in April 09. WSTA chief executive Jeremy Beadles says: "There is no doubt that the figures from the Campden survey are disappointing but they are also rather surprising given our own research conducted more recently.” (July 09).

"We have analysed* three times as many products at two major supermarket outlets and they show significantly higher levels of compliance with all 5 elements of the labelling scheme. Over 50% of our sample is using the Pregnancy logo for example.

"What's more in the last few months several major companies have signed up to the voluntary scheme. We urge all companies in the sector to do this voluntarily. It is clearly in their interests to do this rather than face further labelling legislation."

The DH report says: “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 says: "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 says:  "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."
Despite some improvements in the cider and beer categories, sections of the drinks industry, the DH says, “still have much more to do to live up to their agreement”.

Read The Independent Monitoring Report and Consultation

1 February 2010 - Felicity Murray