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Nutritional labels may be in alochol’s future

Pages from a ruling by the Department of the Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau showing voluntary recommendations for labeling of wines, distilled spirits and malt liquor that were released on May 28, 2013.  New labels on alcohol could help drinkers know what they are consuming _ but only if the alcohol companies want them to. The Treasury Department, which regulates alcohol, is moving to allow companies to place labels on packages that include serving size, servings per container, calories, carbohydrates, protein, and fat per serving. The labels would be voluntary. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

Pages from a ruling by the Department of the Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau showing voluntary recommendations for labeling of wines, distilled spirits and malt liquor that were released on May 28, 2013. New labels on alcohol could help drinkers know what they are consuming _ but only if the alcohol companies want them to. The Treasury Department, which regulates alcohol, is moving to allow companies to place labels on packages that include serving size, servings per container, calories, carbohydrates, protein, and fat per serving. The labels would be voluntary. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

Alcoholic beverages soon could have nutritional labels like those on food packaging, but only if the producers want to put them there.

The Treasury Department, which regulates alcohol, said last week that beer, wine and spirits companies can use labels that include serving size, servings per container, calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat per serving. Such package labels have never before been approved.

The labels are voluntary, so it will be up to beverage companies to decide whether to use them on their products.

The decision is a temporary, first step while the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau continues to consider final rules on alcohol labels. Rules proposed in 2007 would have made labels mandatory, but the agency never made the rules final.

The labeling regulation, issued Tuesday, comes after a decade of lobbying by hard liquor companies and consumer groups, with clearly different goals. The liquor companies want to advertise low calories and low carbohydrates in their products. Consumer groups want alcoholic drinks to have the same transparency as packaged foods, which are required to be labeled.

“This is actually bringing alcoholic beverages into the modern era,” said Guy Smith, an executive vice president at Diageo, the world’s largest distiller and maker of such well-known brands as Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Jose Cuervo and Tanqueray.

Diageo asked the bureau in 2003 to allow the company to add that information to its products as low-carbohydrate diets were gaining in popularity.

Almost 10 years later, Smith said he expects Diageo gradually to put the new labels on all of its products, which include a small number of beer and wine companies.

“It’s something consumers have come to expect,” Smith said. “In time, it’s going to be, why isn’t it there?”

Not all alcohol companies are expected to use labels. Among those that may take a pass are beer companies, which don’t want consumers counting calories, and winemakers, which don’t want to ruin the sleek look of their bottles.

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