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Label detective: Alcohol labelling

Label detective: Alcohol labelling

Most food products must display ingredients and nutrition information, but what about alcohol? Food law experts at Simpson Grierson find out.

The festive season brings with it the inevitable indulgence in yummy food and drink. While enjoying your chosen brands of chips and dips, you might notice the packets state the ingredients in those products, but the information is not on your favourite pinot gris.

Does this mean different labelling rules apply to alcoholic beverages? But, hang on, the label on the alcoholic ready-to-drink (RTD) bottle your bestie is drinking does contain a list of ingredients.

The Food Standards Code

(FSC) regulates what information is required on labels, what is not required on certain products and what is required on certain products only.

What’s the law got to say?

In general, under the FSC, most packaged food and beverage products are required to be labelled, and those labels must contain certain information, such as the name of the product, supplier name and address, nutrition information and ingredients lists.

However, alcoholic beverages are exempt from some requirements. The labels of standardised alcoholic beverages (ie, those classified under a specific standard under the FSC, such as wine, beer, liqueur and spirits) are not required to display an ingredients list, nutrition information or characterising ingredients.

These exemptions apply to some alcoholic products and not others. Alcoholic beverages that are not standardised and which contain more than 0.5 per cent alcohol, such as RTDs, are not required to display nutrition information, but are required to contain an ingredients list.

There are also certain requirements that must be included on alcoholic beverages that contain more than 0.5 per cent alcohol, whether they’re standardised or not. These are a statement of alcohol content and the number of standard drinks in the product.

There are also other laws to consider that have an impact on alcohol labels. The Wine Regulations 2006 require wine labels to state the country of origin. However, this does not apply to other alcoholic beverages.

The FSC also prohibits certain representations of alcohol. Alcohol that contains more than 1.15 per cent of alcohol by volume must not be represented as being low in alcohol. Nutrition content and health claims cannot be made about alcohol, unless the claim is about energy, carbohydrate or gluten content. For example, you can claim a beer is ‘low carb’ but not that it is ‘high in potassium’ or ‘reduces heart disease’.

What’s coming up?

Recently, the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation agreed a mandatory labelling standard for pregnancy warning should be developed for alcoholic beverages. Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the organisation that develops the FSC, is developing this mandatory standard. Many industry manufacturers already voluntarily include pregnancy warning statements on their alcohol products. The new standard may mean a change in the current wording and images used on alcoholic beverages, but will likely include a transitional period that will give manufacturers time to comply with requirements. Watch this space!

Consumer tip
If you want to know what is in your alcoholic beverage, visit the manufacturer’s website or contact them for information. You can also visit the Ministry for Primary Industries or FSANZ’s websites for further alcohol labelling information

First published: Jan 2019

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