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The Buzz

A Beerfly's view. If you see anything here that seems crazy, click here.

Fresh Buzz

Vintage Buzz

2006 Buzz

July '06: Break the Chains

June '06: Viva El Hefe!

May '06: Just Like Wine

Apr. '06: Mixed Messages

Mar. '06: We Print the Truth

Feb. '06: The Fairer Sex

Jan. '06: Best of 2005

2005 Buzz

Dec. '05: Look at Me Drink!

Nov. '05: Malt Monsters

Oct. '05: Sweetness

Sep. '05: When to Fold

Aug. '05: Little Nightmares

July '05: American Spirit

June '05: Miller Time 

May. '05: Breathing Beer 

April '05: Now It's Personal

Mar. '05: 7% Ain't Enough

Feb. '05: Down to 18 

Jan. '05: Best of 2004 

2004 Buzz

Dec. '04: Joys of the Dark 

Nov. '04: The Next Store 

Oct. '04: Beer's Image 

Sept. '04: Clearly Insane 

August '04: Love of Lager

July '04: Speak Up!

June '04: Get Drafted

May '04: Shedding Tiers

April '04: Keg Party

March '04: Ultra Madness

February '04: Case Law

January '04: Best of 2003

2003 Buzz

Dec. '03: Wine good!

Nov. '03: Say Anything

Oct. '03: Shots at Saveur

Sept. '03: Pay For It!

August '03: Subtlety

July '03: RIP, Corner Bar

June '03: Screw 'Em!

May '03: Extreme Beer?

April '03: Liquor Taxes

March '03: St. Patrick's

February '03: Coffee

January '03: Taxes

 

August, 2006 

Messin' With Us

How would you feel if a co-worker called you to tell you that she had just been in a meeting with your boss, and your boss was bad-mouthing you to his boss and everyone else in the meeting? Your boss was complaining that you had not begun your new project, despite being told to.

"He said you were more interested in re-writing your resume, and you didnít care if the new project got started or not," she tells you. "Then he said that he was completing the project himself, and he would hand it off to you to fact-check when it was done. His boss is furious with you. Youíre in deep crap. Why didnít you do that project?"

Whatís particularly frustrating is that the Ďnew projectí is something youíve championed for three years, only to be shot down time and again by your boss. Itís something every other company has done, a customer service program thatís practically an industry standard. Your boss insisted that it would give your companyís customers the wrong idea about your products, and absolutely refused to let you even talk about the program. And now heís not only taking the credit, heís blaming you for his lapse!

What a jerk, eh? Well, meet the latest annoyance from the anti-alcohol groups. The usual crew are out there pounding the drums on this one, pushing for nutritional labels (quasi-nutritional; more on that shortly) on booze. "The public deserves to know!" they holler.

Iíve got a couple problems with this whole thing. 

First, their press statements strongly imply that the brewers, distillers, and vintners are somehow in a conspiracy to keep this information off their labels. Nothing could be further from the truth. Does no one remember Bert Grant? Bert was a pioneer in many ways, one of the first microbrewers, and he also voluntarily put nutritional labels on his beer, back when nutritional labels were made mandatory for all foods -- all other foods, that is, except beer, wine, and spirits. Just take a look: even bottled water has nutritional information.. Hereís a copy of one of Bert's labels, he had it hanging on the wall at his brewery when I visited back in 1997. 

The note at the bottom says it all. "Please note: publication of this data is banned in the U.S.A. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has determined that the revelation of analytical data on any alcoholic beverage that shows a positive health benefit is illegal. They do not dispute the accuracy of the analysis."

That's right: the ATF fined Grant for being so naughty as to put nutritional information on his beer. They forced him to take the information off his labels, information that the FDA required all other foods to have. Why was beer not covered by the FDA regs? Damn good question. After all, I'll tell you it's a food -- which the Food & Drug Administration should cover, no? -- and folks like CSPI will tell you it's a drug -- which the Food & Drug Administration should...hey, wait a minute... Well, of course, if folks like CSPI had their way, beer would be covered by the DEA, not the FDA. 

What it came down to was Repeal. When the regulations got written, everyone was still scared that Prohibition was NOT dead, and they stepped lightly. The regs on labeling malt beverages are full of no-no's on saying anything about alcoholic strength, and there are also these two broad-beamed beauties in 27 CFR Part 7, Subsection 7.29, "Prohibited Practices" that say containers or labels shall not contain either "Any statement that is false or untrue in any particular, or that, irrespective of falsity, directly, or by ambiguity, omission, or inference, or by the addition of irrelevant, scientific or technical matter, tends to create a misleading impression" or "Any statement, design, device, or representation of or relating to analyses, standards, or tests, irrespective of falsity, which the appropriate ATF officer finds to be likely to mislead the consumer." 

Vague enough? Truth is, the whole reason booze is not allowed to use nutritional labels, the true and accurate labels every other food is required to have, is because using nutritional labels like the one above with the clearly significant nutrients (particularly in the B-vitamins) has been deemed to create a misleading impression. Beer is not allowed to say how good it is: fat-free, lower in calories than most soft drinks, and packed with B-vitamins, because that would create the misleading impression that beer is good for you. 

This is, of course, the same government that has reluctantly admitted the possibility that moderate drinking actually is good for you. Yet we still have nothing but a ridiculous warning label on booze. "Warning: this stuff might make you drunk, and if you're pregnant, don't drink it." No kidding. Wow, that's useful. I'll bet lots of people read that and seriously re-consider immoderate actions.

Second, (Didja remember I said I had a "couple" problems?) these folks who want to put nutritional information on alcohol, to help the poor consumers? They don't really want to put nutritional information on booze. They lie. What they really want is to put as many negative things as possible on booze bottles, no positive statements, and generally cost the booze-makers money and goodwill as much as possible. 

Look here. My dear, dear friends at the Center for Science in the Public Interest are all over this, driving the ATTTB along with a stick. Is it because they really want useful information to go to the public? NO! It's because they see yet another opportunity to make booze look bad. Check out this petition they submitted to the Bureau. They want the Bureau to require labeling that will include "(a) the beverageís alcohol content expressed as a percentage of volume; (b) the serving size; (c) the amount of alcohol per serving; d) number of calories per serving; (e) the ingredients (including additives) from which the beverage is made; (f) the number of standard drinks per container; and (g) the U.S. Dietary Guidelinesí advice on moderate drinking for men and women." 

I don't have any problems with that, not even the last one. Hell, the more info, the better. But that's all they want. CSPI does not want booze labels to include the same nutritional analyses required for every other ingestible drink on the shelf. "...listing protein and fat content, which are absolutely irrelevant for most alcoholic beverages, provides little of value and may even do harm.  Consumers may come to believe that alcoholic beverages are a food source of those (and other) nutrients..." Hey, sounds like this kind of labeling and reasoning would run afoul of that CFR reg against  "Any statement that is false or untrue in any particular, or that, irrespective of falsity, directly, or by ambiguity, omission, or inference, or by the addition of irrelevant, scientific or technical matter, tends to create a misleading impression." Now who's misleading?

The truth is, the labeling campaigns that CSPI and their ilk have been pushing for years are not about informing the public. They are never satisfied: whenever their demands are met, they wait two years and make more demands. It's about punishing the booze-makers. They force them to spend money on new labels, they force them to spend money and effort on fighting the ridiculous labels, they try to make them look like the bad guys for not wanting this constant parade of label changes. It's not about informing the public, it's about attrition. All these folks do is file petitions and issue press releases. The brewers, distillers, and vintners are creating an ever-better product, and creating real jobs. 

The ATTTB has just released for comment proposals that would allow or mandate allergen labeling. Why not just admit that booze is food and use the same labeling the FDA does, plus a standard alcohol content label? It would not create a misleading impression; it wouldn't really create any kind of impression. It would state facts. How can you go wrong with that? Do it, do it once, and be done with it.

 

 

 
Copyright © 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. 
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Revised: November 01, 2006