Ensure Responsible Drinking of Beer, Wine and Spirits

If you were to review our careers in political life, we are sure there are only a handful of things we would agree on:

(1) The sun rises in the East and sets in the West.

(2) April 15 is Tax Day even though we have differing opinions on the tax itself.

(3) On Jan. 20, 2009, there will be a new president in the White House.

(4) And our days in the Senate and House, respectively, were some of our proudest.

We also agree on a topic important to all of us: We must take every step possible to ensure responsible drinking of beer, wine and spirits.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month and at this moment we all have the opportunity to provide consumers with basic information about alcohol, information that has been missing from labels. All foods and beverages are now labeled with basic nutrition information, except for alcoholic beverages.

Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and his team at the department have an opportunity to fix this oversight. They are considering a rule that would modernize the labeling of wines, distilled spirits and malt beverages. The problem is that while the proposed label would require information about calories and protein per a defined serving, it does not require information about the essential ingredient: alcohol. That’s right; Treasury is proposing a label for alcoholic beverages that does not include the amount of alcohol in a drink.

All standard drinks, 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or a shot of spirits contain the exact same amount of alcohol: 0.6 fluid ounces. Consumers must be provided this information so they can make an informed and hopefully responsible decision. They also need to know how many servings are in the container, as is traditional for all other foods and beverages. Alcoholic beverages are the only major source of calories that is not labeled. That needs to be fixed.

None of us would think of driving with a blindfold on but we are drinking with a blindfold and then in some very unfortunate cases getting behind the wheel. Treasury has the opportunity to fix this by publishing a rule that makes sense.

The proposal can be improved by requiring that the amount of alcohol per serving in fluid ounces and the number of standard drinks per container be included as part of the Serving Facts panel. The 55 percentage of the adult American population who choose to drink should have the ability to comply with the Dietary Guidelines’ advice on “moderate” drinking. How can any of us comply if basic information continues to be kept from the consumer?

If the new label is going to tell people the number of calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein for a standard serving size, isn’t it common sense that the label of an alcoholic beverage clearly and also plainly state how much alcohol is in it?

It’s time to take the blinders off! Let’s not have another Alcohol Awareness Month with the public unaware of the amount of alcohol per serving in wine, beer, and spirits.