Wednesday, July 16, 2008

National Consumers League Blasts Alcohol Myth.

The press release is dated today. The headline says, "NCL Challenges Myth that Some Alcoholic Beverages Are 'Safer' and 'Less Potent.'"

The subhead is even more provocative: "New Initiative Underscores Need for New Alcohol Label."

You can read the release here. That's the NCL web site, which is good if, like me, you've never heard of the NCL before.

NCL stands for National Consumer League. Still not ringing any bells? Apparently, it's a 100 year old organization that "emerged as part of the late 19th century social justice movement." One of its founders was Chicago icon Jane Addams, of Hull-House fame.

But back to the press release. Their point hinges on alcohol equivalency, which is something the distilled spirits side of the booze industry has always pushed hard. (Here it is on the Distilled Spirits Council's web site.) The gist is that a standard serving of wine, beer or a spirits cocktail contains about the same amount of alcohol.

Okay? So?

I quote: "...the myth that some alcoholic beverages are 'safer' and less 'potent' than pervasive and linked with the overconsumption of alcohol and the permissive attitudes of some parents about underage drinking. In an opinion poll commissioned by the Center for Government Reform, 88% of parents mistakenly concluded that beer is safer than liquor."

Waiting for the other shoe to drop? Here it is: "We are trying to give consumers the basics about the alcohol content of different alcoholic beverages, but the real answer is government action to require standardized and complete labeling information on beer, wine and distilled spirits products. Consumers should know how many calories, carbohydrates, and other nutrition information are in a standard drink. They have it for nonalcoholic beverages, food, and nonprescription drugs. It is time for this information to be on the labels for alcoholic beverages."

Don't they proof read these things? How much "nutrition information" is in a standard drink, anyway?

There are some practical problems with alcohol labeling. What, for example, are the ingredients in bourbon whiskey? Water, corn, rye, malted barley, and yeast are the only ingredients. Does that tell you anything? What do you call the compounds that enter the spirit during aging? wood sugars and wood oils?

The obvious and most fundamental thing they are calling for is alcohol content, which through some fairly bizarre post-prohibition logic is required on wine and spirits products in all states, but prohibited on beer and other malt beverages in most states. The NCL thinks it should be on all beverage alcohol products, which I think is just common sense. The logic for prohibiting it, that brewers would start to compete based on alcohol content, seems absurd in today's alcohol marketing and consumer product labeling environment.

They also go further, urging that each package state how many "standard drinks" it contains. They don't map it out, but basically a 12-ounce can or bottle of beer contains one standard drink, a 750 ml bottle of table wine contains 5 standard drinks, and a 750 ml bottle of 80° proof spirits contains 17 standard drinks.

All very reasonable and common sense, which is why you probably won't read about it anywhere else. I'll bet it doesn't get one-tenth of the coverage the clowns at CSPI get each time they go ballistic about "the alcoholic-beverage industry's relentless marketing and powerful political influence."

And that's a pity.

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