/ Food & Drink

Do you want to know what’s in your beer and wine?

Should we know as much about what goes into the alcohol we drink as we do with the food we eat? MEPs this week joined health experts in backing calls for calorie labels on alcohol. Is this something you’d look out for?

Over this bank holiday weekend, I’m likely at some point to tuck into a takeaway pizza and enjoy a drink. The pizza box will tell me how many calories I eat, along with how much salt, sugar and so on. But the wine or beer will tell me none of this.

We’re so used to seeing a long list of ingredients for the food we eat that we probably think nothing about it. And an increasing number of restaurants tell us more about the food they serve. Yet, look at a bottle of beer or wine and pretty much all you’ll be able to tell is the percentage of alcohol it contains and what colour it is.

That’s because drinks containing more than 1.2% alcohol are exempt from the labelling legislation that came in to force in 2011.

MEPs vote for calorie labelling on drinks

A vote in the European Parliament has now come out in favour of printing calories on all alcoholic drinks.

The vote isn’t binding and it could take years for it to become law, but the MEPs say that having mandatory calorie labels will help tackle rising levels of obesity. Did you know, for example, that a large glass of wine can contain around 200 calories? That’s about the same as a doughnut.

Last year the Royal Society for Public Health made a similar plea and suggested that 80% of adults have no idea what the calorie count is in what they’re drinking.

Other ingredients in alcoholic drinks

Here’s a question for you – if we’re told about how many calories are in our drink, do you think we should also know what ingredients it contains? Again, you’ll know from the labels on food and soft drinks whether they contain additives such as colourings and flavourings – but you won’t find that on alcoholic drinks.

The Food Information Regulation requires that all food and soft drinks list ingredients, as well as levels of fat, sugars, salt and more. But alcoholic drinks are exempt. This is despite Which? and its sister organisations across Europe having called for ingredients to be listed on alcoholic drinks for many years. The only thing that needs to be listed on alcohol are allergens, such as eggs or milk.

Do you want to see calories listed on alcoholic drinks? Do you think other ingredients should be listed so that you would know, for example, whether it was suitable for a vegetarian?

Comments
Member

Calories definitely should be listed on the reverse side to the label. Ingredients I cannot get excited about but on blance yes they should be listed.

Member

I would like to see the ingredients of alcoholic drinks and nutritional information, just as we have for most foods. I can see no logical reason why alcoholic drinks were excluded from legislation.

Member

wavechange, I agree although I’m not too bothered about calories, pretty obvious there are a lot of calories in alcoholic drinks. Anyone looking to keep their weight in check really needs to limit consumption accordingly, and generic figures will do fine for that. I am much more keen on knowing about the additives in both drink and food. These are there to preserve the product and in some cases to enhance the taste of what might otherwise be nothing special. I’ve never been too keen on “additives” there seems to me to be a question mark on long term accumulative effects of these additives. I Germany for example I believe there are “purity laws” on beer which means ingredients other than those required to actually make beer are not allowed. That’s the kind of legislation I’d like to see here. Yes the product might not keep so long and yes the manufacture has to be more carefully controlled to maintain consistent quality but you’d always know exactly what you’re getting and that it’s real and pure.

Member

Chris – I did not mention calories but since they are there along with ingredients and nutritional information on most foods, they should be there on alcoholic drinks, bread and many other we buy.

I am not aware of anything potentially dubious additives used in beer manufacture, but without information about the ingredients, we cannot be sure. I am suspicious of the brewing industry, which has already inflicted unpleasant pasteurised and carbonated keg beers on us, supported by expensive advertising campaigns. It does last longer, in the same way that UHT milk does.

Member
big black cat says:
1 May 2015

I am not a fan of only listing additives which may cause allergic reactions; I think the food and alcohol industry would be too slow to act if say an addition to food was shown to cause reactions in people who were having to avoid it; I doubt those industries concerned would list that ingredient with any speed at all and it could then take years to list any further warnings.

Let people have all the information and make up their own minds- what are they trying to hide here? I do not want someone trying to spoon feed me information and warnings. I want to make the choice myself by seeing all the information myself. Why do that for me? I am not 5 years old- I can make my own mind up!

Member

I agree. How is anyone supposed to deal with allergies if they don’t know what drink or food contains?

I have a problem with sulphites. The amount in white wine varies considerably. I’m not going to buy wine unless the sulphite content is declared.

Member

I’d agree that putting the ingredients on anything we ingest is worthwhile for those knowledgable enough to use the information. However, I wonder how many people would control their calorie intake, and even know what it should be, by looking at labels; I would think just keeping track of a daily consumption for the variety of foods eaten would be difficult enough, but it is probably more important to track a week or a month – how likely are people to do that?

I confess I do not know how many calories might be recommended for me, but I do eat and drink sensibly (I believe) and am not obese. In general I would think most people have a reasonable idea about what are the rubbish foods and drinks – sugary and fatty – and their effect and would know whether they are eating and drinking more than moderate amounts. So I just pose the question – do many look and use the numbers?

Member

I spent a year living in Berlin, drinking only German beer. I never had a hangover once, despite drinking large quantities many times. It was a strange feeling to wake up in the morning, still feeling drunk but with no headache. This is because of the Reinheitsgebot, the German law on beer purity that dates back to 1516. Although it is no longer German law, any German brewery that stops adhering to it will quickly find its sales plummeting. Whenever I came back to London for weekends and drank a similar quantity of beer, I would have a hangover.

Unfortunately the increasing range of draught German beer sold in pubs in London does not appear to conform to the Reinheitsgebot. Although the beer might have been brewed in Germany according to the Reinheitsgebot, I fear that preservatives are subsequently added in distribution process in the UK, and one can often taste cleaning products from the pipework in pubs.