Alcohol Calorie Counts Required

Alcohol and Cocktail Menu Labeling at Chain Restaurant

New menu labeling rules from the Food and Drug Administration will require chain restaurants with 20 or more outlets to list the amount of calories in drinks with alcohol, along with other foods, on menus by next November.

The rules don't apply to drinks ordered at the bar or any drinks that aren't listed on the main menu. Individual calorie amounts aren't required in wine lists at this point either, and most bottles and cans won't have to list full nutritional information.

But this is only a first step, according to public health advocates.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the agency decided to include these strictures in the final rules this year after those who commented on the rule were largely in favor of such labeling because of its potential impact on public health. The rules take effect at the end of 2015.

The new rules are designed to not be too burdensome for the alcohol industries or restaurants. Endless combinations of mixed drinks won't have to be labeled at bars, unless they are listed on a menu, and the FDA is allowing restaurants to use estimates of calories and ranges of calories without listing the exact amount in every different drink. That means menus must list the average amount of calories in a glass of red or white wine, but won't have to list calories by every brand of wine on the wine list unless they choose to do so. Same with beers and spirits.

Public health advocates say the new menu labeling rules for alcohol are a welcome first step.
Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said people will want more nutritional labeling for alcohol as they get used to it. "Most of the time when people have a drink they have absolutely no idea what its caloric impact is," Wootan says.

The requirements, which go into effect on December 1, 2015, include restaurants and retail food establishments that are part of a chain of 20 or more locations that do business under the same name and offer for sale substantially the same menu items. Such establishments are required to include calorie and nutrition information for standard menu items (which FDA defined to mean a restaurant-type food that is commonly included on a menu or menu board food or frequently offered as food on display and self-service food).

Currently, the TTB, the Department of the Treasury Office in charge of beverage alcohol labeling, does not require calorie or nutritional disclosure on labels unless a product makes a calorie or carbohydrate claim. And while the FDA is not requiring a manufacturer or importer change its labels, it is asking retail establishments that sell such alcohol beverage products to provide information that is not currently available on most alcohol labels. The agency indicates, in its response to the comments for the final rule, that a covered establishment will have “significant flexibility in choosing a reasonable basis for their nutrient content disclosures, which can include a database such as the USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.”

Meanwhile, U.S. winemakers are concerned that the new rule requiring restaurants may become costly for vintners that provide wine to chain restaurants, according to the Washington Post.

The trade association that represents 600 U.S. wineries, WineAmerica, has hired DC lobbyists to press the FDA to allow wineries to provide an estimated range of calories for categories of wine - as opposed to exact calorie counts for each specific wine, which the wine industry says would require costly testing.

The rule applies to the restaurants that serve the alcohol - and not the beverage manufacturers that make it. Still, the wine association wants to make sure restaurants do not ask wineries to provide them with exact calorie counts, but rather accept estimated ranges of calories based on alcohol content.


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