By Tammuz Huberman J.D. ’19, student in the Food Law and Policy Clinic
Let’s say you’re a health-conscious consumer at the grocery store deciding on a beverage to purchase. Maybe you glance at the familiar “Nutrition Fact” panels on food and beverage packages to help you decide what to buy. Bottled water displays zero calories, a can of Coke shows 150 calories, and the average protein shake about 250 calories. Wine? Beer? You’re out of luck: most alcoholic beverages are not required to display nutrition or ingredient information. This makes them virtually the only ingestible consumer products not required to disclose comprehensive product identity or quality information.
While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instated mandatory labeling rules requiring use of a standard Nutrition Facts Panel and ingredient list, among other things, following the passage of the National Labeling and Education Act of 1990, alcohol is strangely regulated by a different agency – the Department of Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). TTB oversight of alcohol traces back to the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, passed by Congress in 1935 following the end of the Prohibition Era. Recognizing the tax revenue potential of alcoholic beverages, Congress assigned their regulation to the Treasury Department rather than the FDA. TTB has not adopted a comprehensive labeling regime akin to the FDA’s; as a result, alcoholic beverages fail to provide much in the way of product identity or quality information beyond alcohol content disclosures.