Nancy Glick

Alcohol labeling: We’re in it to win it

Nancy GlickBy Nancy Glick, Director of Food and Nutrition Policy

For historians, 2003 will be remembered as the year that the space shuttle Columbia crashed, scientists finished sequencing the human genome, and the U.S. launched war against Iraq.

But 2003 also marks an important milestone for American consumers. In December of that year, three national consumer organizations – the National Consumers League (NCL), Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) – first petitioned the federal government to require an easy to read, standardized “Alcohol Facts” label on all beer, wine and distilled spirits products. This sparked a 19-year battle that is finally paying off for the estimated 67 percent of Americans[1] who drink alcoholic beverages.

In 2003, the Nutrition Facts label on processed foods and non-alcoholic beverages had been in use for almost a decade (1994) and many consumers said they frequently or almost always read the label. Thus, public acceptance and use of the Nutrition Facts label created built-in public support for an Alcohol Facts label. In fact, polling NCL commissioned in both 2005 and 2007 showed overwhelming public support for comprehensive alcohol labeling. Now, polling consistently shows that 75 percent of Americans think alcoholic beverages should have standardized alcohol content labels and 72 percent say this labeling will encourage responsible alcohol use.

Even more significantly, not knowing what is in a beer, wine or distilled spirits drink increases the risk for overconsumption of alcohol, a serious and costly public health problem. According to the latest research findings, alcohol is a source of empty calories that contribute to obesity,[2] and can impact blood sugar control in people with diabetes.[3] Additionally, alcohol is a roadway killer accounting for about 30 percent of all traffic crash fatalities in the U.S.,[4] and excessive drinking increases the risk of liver disease, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, alcohol use disorders, certain cancers and severe injuries.[5] Consequently, an estimated 140,000 people in the United States die annually from alcohol- related causes,[6] which is why the cost of excessive alcohol use reached $249 billion in 2010 and is likely higher today..[7]

Based on this documented evidence, the 2003 petition, which was also signed by 73 nutrition/public health organizations and experts, called for a label that gives consumers the needed information to make responsible drinking decisions, such as the serving size, amount of alcohol and calories per serving, the percent alcohol by volume, and the number of standard drinks per container. And yet, the lead federal agency that regulates alcoholic beverages – the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) – deliberated but failed to take meaningful action for almost two decades.

The arcane process started in 2005 with an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, which produced over 19,000 public comments. In 2006, TTB issued another notice of proposed rulemaking on allergen labeling followed by a notice in 2007 on alcohol and nutrition labeling. Unfortunately, however, TTB allowed these proposed rules to languish, ultimately deciding in 2013 to issue a voluntary rule allowing companies to decide what nutrition and calorie information to disclose – and what to keep hidden. Not surprisingly, many manufacturers opted out of TTB’s program so most alcoholic beverage products on the market remain unlabeled or carry incomplete information.

Even with these setbacks, the consumer community kept up the pressure on TTB because the need for alcohol labeling has only increased. This became apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic when a 2020 RAND study charted a 14 percent increase in alcohol consumption among adults over age 30 in one year.[8] Another national study found that excessive (binge) drinking increased by 21 percent during the pandemic, with the potential for 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease by 2040.[9]

And then, the sand started to shift. Also related to the pandemic, consumer demand skyrocketed for hard ciders, some types of beers, wine coolers and the other low-alcohol drinks sold in supermarkets and convenience stores and what consumers saw were complete alcohol labels on these products. This is because low-alcohol drinks fall under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration, not TTB. Armed with this evidence, NCL leaders met online with Department of Treasury and TTB officials in June 2021 and put TTB in the uncomfortable position of having to explain why often the same manufacturers who must put a standardized content label on brands regulated by FDA don’t bother to do so when their products are under TTB’s jurisdiction.

Not long after this meeting, the Treasury Department conducted its own review and on February 9, 2022, issued a report, Competition in the Markets for Beer, Wine and Spirits, that advanced the importance of labeling information to foster competition within the beverage alcohol industry. The report contains several recommendations, including the recommendation that “TTB should revive or initiate rulemaking proposing ingredient labeling and mandatory information on alcohol content, nutritional content, and appropriate serving sizes.”

This was encouraging news, so NCL doubled down, combining forces with CSPI and the Consumer Federation of America to get TTB to mandate alcohol labeling across the board. Recognizing that public pressure alone will not ensure success, the organizations turned to Congress, hosting briefings for lead staffers of the House and Senate appropriations committees with jurisdiction over TTB’s budget and sending a joint letter to key Congressional leaders from 23 consumer, health/nutrition, and alcohol policy organizations about the need for mandatory alcohol labeling. This led to report language in the draft House and Senate 2023 appropriations bills that encourages TTB to initiate a final rulemaking.

The last step was filing a lawsuit against TTB in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on October 3, 2022, asking the court to direct TTB to grant or deny the 2003 petition within 60 days. The lawsuit was a gamble, but it worked: on November 17, 2022, TTB accepted the 2003 petition and committed to publish three rulemakings covering mandatory nutrient and alcohol content labeling, mandatory allergen labeling, and mandatory ingredient labeling within the next year.

However, this is not the end of the story. The proposed rules will be accompanied by open public comment periods where we can anticipate that segments of the alcohol industry will be aggressive in fighting robust consumer labeling.  Therefore, NCL will also be actively engaging a wide range of stakeholders to weigh in on behalf of consumers so the American public to have access to standardized and complete labeling information on beer, wine and distilled spirits. It has taken 19 years to get to this point, but our message is clear: alcohol labeling is long past due, consumers overwhelmingly want to see it, and we will stay in the fight until alcohol labeling is a reality.

[1] Gallup. Alcohol & Drinking. July 2022

[2] U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9Th Edition. December 2020.

[3] Emanuele NV, et al. Consequences of Alcohol Use in Diabetics. Alcohol Health Res World. 1998; 22(3): 211–219.

[4] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Risky Drunk and Drugged Driving Statistics.

[5] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol and Public Health. Last reviewed April 14, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

[6] U.S. Centers for Disease and Control Prevention. Deaths from Excessive Alcohol Use in the U.S. Page last reviewed April 14, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/features/excessive-alcohol-deaths.html . Accessed June 2, 2022.

[7] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol and Public Health. Page last reviewed April 14, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/features/excessive-drinking.html. Accessed June 2, 2022.

[8] Pollard MS, et al. Changes in Adult Alcohol Use and Consequences During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2022942.

[9] Julien J, et al. Effect of increased alcohol consumption during COVID-19 pandemic on alcohol-associated lover disease: A modeling study. Hepatology. Vol. 75; Issue 6; June 2022; 1480-1490.

Consumer groups obtain TTB commitment to issue rulemakings on mandatory alcohol labeling

November 21, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 823-8442

Washington D.C. — A coalition of consumer groups today announced an important victory for the American public: the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has agreed to issue proposed rules requiring standardized alcohol content, calorie, and allergen labeling on all beer, wine and distilled spirits products. TTB also agreed to begin preliminary rulemaking on mandatory ingredient labeling.

TTB’s decision comes after three national consumer organizations – the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, and the National Consumers League – sued TTB on October 3, 2022, for failing to act on a 2003 petition to require alcohol labeling with the same basic transparency consumers expect for non-alcoholic beverages and food products. CSPI’s litigation department filed the complaint on behalf of the three organizations in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Based on evidence that alcohol is a significant source of empty calories and increases the risk of certain cancers, alcohol use disorders, traffic accidents, and severe injuries, the 2003 petition specifically called for listing the amount of alcohol and calories per serving, the percent alcohol by volume, the serving size, the number of standard drinks per container, and other needed information to make fully informed drinking decisions. These consumer groups also petitioned for an ingredients listing on all alcoholic beverages, something that is a standard feature for other food products and particularly important to those with allergies or other chemical sensitivities.

As a result of the lawsuit, TTB committed to publishing three rulemakings covering mandatory nutrient and alcohol content labeling, mandatory allergen labeling, and mandatory ingredient labeling within the next year.

In addition to the lawsuit, the groups applauded the House and Senate Appropriations Committee for including report language in the FY23 Financial Services and General Government bill urging the agency to take action on this critical rule.

“This is a groundbreaking day for consumers,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League. “Consumer advocates have been trying for 19 years to get this far. Now there is light at the end of the tunnel. We thank the TTB for finally taking this action and look forward to working closely with the agency, the industry, and other consumer advocates to make sure this is done right and that consumers are the winners.”

“All we have requested over these two long decades is the kind of information that consumers expect when purchasing other foods and beverages,” said Peter Lurie, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “We hope TTB can move quickly on this long overdue action.”

Better labeling requirements for alcoholic beverages will allow consumers to make more informed decisions,” said Thomas Gremillion, Director of Food Policy at Consumer Federation of America. “Consumers have a right to consistent, reliable, and relevant information about the products they buy. For too long, the alcohol industry has kept consumers in the dark, and TTB’s announcement is an important step forward.” 

The 2003 citizen petition was submitted to the Treasury Department by CSPI, CFA, and NCL and a coalition of 66 other organizations and eight individuals, including four deans of schools of public health.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit https://nclnet.org.

NCL applauds federal agency’s decision to require mandatory labeling on all alcoholic beverages

November 18, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, (703) 298-2614

Washington D.C. — Today the National Consumers League hailed the decision by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the federal agency that oversees alcohol labeling, to require mandatory labeling on all alcoholic beverages as a “great consumer victory.” NCL is grateful to the agency for this welcome – albeit long overdue – decision.

In 2003, NCL and other consumer groups filed a petition calling on TTB to provide consumers with robust nutritional information about the alcoholic beverages they drink. Today, 19 years later, the agency acted to grant the petition. The November 17 letter from TTB can be viewed here.

NCL and other consumer groups pursued two avenues this year to get movement on the labeling of alcoholic beverages: filing a lawsuit this past fall against the agency and working with Congress.

NCL also thanks the Senate and House Appropriations Committees for their inclusion of language in the Fiscal Year 2023 Financial Services and General Government Funding Bill that urges the agency to move toward mandatory nutritional labeling of alcoholic beverages.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit https://nclnet.org.

Nancy Glick

Consumers need accurate product names and labeling of plant-based meat products

Nancy GlickBy Nancy Glick, Director of Food and Nutrition Policy

With mounting information that plant-based diets are generally better for people’s health and the environment, many consumers are giving “meatless meats” a try.

About two-thirds of Americans consumed “plant-based meat alternatives” – or PBMAs – in the past year, with 20 percent eating them at least weekly, according to an August 2021 survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC).[1] As a result, current estimates put the market for PBMAs at $1.4 billion – up from $962 million in 2019[2] –and a Bloomberg Intelligence Report predicts a 500 percent increase in global sales of plant-based foods globally by 2030.[3]

It is easy to understand consumers’ excitement about meatless products that closely resemble the look, feel and taste of burgers, sausages, deli meat and other products made from beef, pork, chicken, eggs and seafood. Polling shows consumers’ top reason for buying these products is the perceived healthfulness of PBMAs. The most sought-after benefits consumers cite are heart health and a good source of high quality and complete protein.

Yet, the reality is that plant-based meat products vary in their formulations, nutritional content and can be high in saturated fat and sodium. These products are often packaged in the same way as their animal protein counterparts and routinely sold next to the meat section in supermarkets. Thus, consumers need clarity in labeling to ensure product names, descriptions and packaging are not misleading and consumers have the qualifying terms to make informed decisions.

As the agency that regulates plant-based foods in the US, the Food and Drug Administration shares this viewpoint. Later this year, FDA will issue draft guidance on the labeling of plant-based milks and plant-based alternatives to “animal-derived foods” (meats) under the umbrella of the agency’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy. The strategy addresses the need for FDA to modernize its regulatory approach for new categories of foods, like PBMAs, developed through the latest technologies.

In developing its draft labeling guidance, FDA has sought information on a range of issues related to labeling, including whether consumers understand terms like “milk” when used in the name of plant-based alternatives and are aware of the nutritional differences between traditional meat and dairy products and their plant-based substitutes. In response, the agency has received thousands of comments from industry groups, manufacturers, academic institutions and professional societies offering their viewpoints. However, the National Consumers League contends that the consumer’s voice must be articulated and heard. Unless the information needs of consumers are clearly defined, FDA’s goal of labeling for transparency and clarity will not be realized.

To provide the consumer perspective, especially regarding decisions about plant-based meat alternatives, in November 2021 NCL and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) convened a panel of experts to assess consumers’ needs for accurate naming, labeling and claims on the package of PBMAs. Comprising regulatory specialists, market researchers, consumer advocates and food industry leaders, the panel also addressed how some key principles laid out in FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy – a common nomenclature, accurate naming and labeling, and elements that assure honesty and fair dealing — can be applied to improve consumer understanding, perception, and decision-making of PBMA products.

In the near future, NCL will issue a full report of the findings of the expert panel and the implications for consumer education efforts and public policy. However, the need to articulate the consumer perspective on labeling PBMAs shouldn’t wait. Therefore, NCL has translated the consensus from the expert panel into a blueprint for FDA and the food industry.

The following are the seven priorities for labeling, naming and marketing plant-based meats alternatives that are in the best interest of consumers:

  1. Establish a definition for the category of “plant-based meat alternatives” that will unite all stakeholders
    Today, many brands, companies and organizations define the term “plant-based” differently and there is not collective agreement on definition of a “meat alternative.” Since these terms represent an entire class of food products, FDA guidance should define what constitutes a “plant-based meat alternative” to promote consistency in labeling across the category.
  2. Ensure brand names are not deceptive
    NCL’s position is it is a deceptive practice to use brand names for PBMAs that suggest a product contains meat, seafood or eggs when none is present or is better/healthier than the traditional animal protein product. Even when the label states the product contains no meat or eggs, consumers are influenced by the brand name, especially if the packaging and content on the website, social media platforms and in ads shows pictures and iconography of animals or the type of meat. 
  3. Require that labels on PBMAs are standardized and clarify the protein source

For labels of PBMAs to be transparent, the naming and labeling of PBMAs must be uniform and consistent and ensure that consumers can readily identify the protein source. Accordingly, FDA should require that all labels and advertisements for PBMAs must:

  • Use a common name that links the protein source and the form, such as “soy burger.”
  • Make clear that the product contains some animal protein in addition to plant-based proteins like soy. Qualifying terms can include “plant-based” and “made from plants.”
  • Make clear when the PBMA contains no meat. These terms can include vegan,” “meatless,” “vegetarian,” “veggie,” and “veggie-based” as well as “plant-based” and “made from plants.”
  • Place the phrase “contains no meat,” “contains no poultry,” or “contains no eggs” on the principal display panel of vegan PBMAs near the common name and in letters at least the same size and prominence as shown in the product’s common name.
  • Not use pictures, icons or vignettes on the packaging, in marketing materials or in advertising that suggests nutrition superiority or that the product is the same as the comparable meat product.
  1. Regulate health/nutrition claims for PBMAs
    Consistent with how FDA regulates the health claims allowed on traditional food products, FDA must make clear in its guidance that nutrition/health claims must undergo review by the FDA through a petition process and there must be significant scientific agreement that the claim is supported by available scientific evidence.
  2. Ensure website, social media, and advertising content for PBMAs conforms to what is on the product label

The guidance must make clear that FDA considers websites and social media to be an extension of the product label, meaning the claims and information that PBMA manufacturers put online must conform what FDA allows on the label.

  1. Address the nutritional composition of the PBMAs in FDA guidance
    In Canada, regulation of PBMAs includes nutritionally required amounts of vitamins and mineral nutrients that must be added to the PBMA product and a minimum limit of total protein content, among other requirements. While NCL supports this approach, FDA should at least recommend levels of key vitamins and nutrients in its guidance and address concerns, such as allergenicity with labeling requirements to flag known allergens, such as soy.
  2. Educate consumers about the nutritional composition of plant-based protein alternatives

It is in the public interest for FDA and the US Department of Agriculture – along with nutrition societies – to conduct education programs that explain the nutritional composition of plant-based protein food products. This will allow consumers to make informed decisions based on science-based information.

Plant-based meat alternatives are a popular and valued part of our food supply. That is why the public needs regulatory policies that ensure the labels on these products are accurate, complete, and provide the qualifiers necessary for consumers to understand what they are purchasing.


[1] International Food Information Council. “Consumption Trends, Preferred Names and Perceptions of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives. November 3, 2021.

[2] Good Food Institute. US retail market data for the plant-based industry. Accessible at: https://gfi.org/marketresearch/

[3] Fortune. Plant-based food sales are expected to increase fivefold by 2030. August 11, 2021. Accessible at: https://fortune.com/2021/08/11/plant-based-food-sales-meat-dairy-alternatives-increase-by-2030/

Understanding the need for the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2021

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Many of us are trying to follow the advice of health authorities to cut back on sugar consumption, and food companies are responding with new versions of products promising “less,” “reduced,” and even “zero” amounts of added sugars.

But in the spirit of reducing added sugars — not surprisingly — more and more food producers are turning to artificial and synthetic substances, sugar alcohols, and new-fangled substances many people have never heard of like Luo Han Guo Extract (also known as “Monk Fruit”). This situation with artificial sweeteners has gotten more complicated since we last took a look at this issue.

Today more label claims are implying that the reformulated product is healthier than the original, without disclosing that the sugar content has been reduced by replacing it with artificial sweeteners. One reformulated oatmeal is labeled “Apples & Cinnamon Lower Sugar” and claims it has “35 percent less sugar.” That may sound like a good thing, but the new version is actually higher in calories than the original. Similarly, the reduced sugar version of one peanut butter brand has 1/3 less sugar, but has more calories per serving than its original counterpart.

Senior Members of Congress, including Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who chair the committees that have jurisdiction over the FDA and its budget, have introduced legislation to fix the problem, namely the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2021, H.R. 4971 (FLMA). The FLMA, S. 2594, is sponsored in the Senate by Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The measure includes provisions aimed at increasing transparency, encouraging responsible product reformulation, and countering misleading claims. For example, the FLMA would require that a food containing any artificial or natural non-caloric sweeteners must prominently disclose the presence of such ingredients on the front labels of food packages. This would help ensure that food manufacturers do not simply replace sugar with questionable alternatives like artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and other sweetening agents, making “new and improved” food products appearing to be more healthful than their regular versions.

The FMLA would also require the FDA to establish a program for front-label symbols indicating a food is high in sugar. NCL supports that effort, but consumers deserve the full story. We don’t want to see unintended consequences of sugar warning labels leading food companies to seek ever more alternative sweeteners; if they are going to be used, those alternatives should be clearly disclosed on the front label, as the FLMA would provide, so consumers can make fully informed purchasing decisions.

The FMLA also directs the FDA to improve food labels in other ways:

  • The bill improves transparency by mandating that caffeine levels be listed. Consumers who are pregnant, have certain health conditions, or take certain medications or supplements often need to limit or avoid caffeine. At the present time, there is no way of knowing how much caffeine is in many foods. The bill would address that problem by requiring prominent disclosure of caffeine content.
  • The bill would require that FDA establish clear and consistent standards for popular marketing terms like “natural” and “healthy.” That’s a welcome requirement.

In sum, the FLMA would bring food labeling into the 21st Century. The National Consumers League supports these important reforms and hope that this legislation gets the full support of Congress.

NCL statement: Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative underscores the capability, interest of the beer industry to put a serving facts panel on beer offerings

August 4, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—At a time when nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults consume alcoholic beverages[1] and need alcohol content labeling to make responsible drinking decisions, the National Consumers League (NCL) welcomes the findings of an independent survey commissioned by the Beer Institute showing that more than 70 percent of the beer products sold in 2020 included a Serving Facts statement listing the alcohol by volume (ABV) and the number of calories, carbohydrates, protein, and fat on products, packaging, or websites.

The survey, which summarizes the results of the Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (VDI) launched in 2016, is noteworthy because it shows that brewers and importers have the capability to put a comprehensive nutrition label on both bottles and cans of beer. As documented by the survey findings, of the 78 percent of beer sold by VDI participating companies in 2020, 95.5 percent—or 152.5 million barrels—included nutritional content disclosures. This translates into 45.4 billion 12-ounce bottles and cans. The companies participating in the Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative are Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors Beverage Company, Constellation Brands Beer Division, HEINEKEN USA, and FIFCO USA.

Beyond the number of beer products now carrying helpful nutritional information, the findings of the Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative are crucial for overcoming the concerns of the federal agency that regulates beer, wine, and distilled spirits—the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) within the Treasury Department—that requiring standardized nutrient content labeling on alcoholic beverages is costly and burdensome for beverage alcohol manufacturers.  Due to these concerns, TTB has yet to issue final regulations requiring Serving Facts statements on alcohol beverage labels.

Getting TTB to issue rules that mandate this labeling has long been a priority for the National Consumers League and other consumer, public health, medical, and nutrition organizations. In fact, NCL’s efforts go back to 2003, when the organization and 75 others first petitioned TTB to require an easy-to-read, standardized “Alcohol Facts” label, similar to the popular “Nutrition Facts” labels on foods and nonalcoholic beverages. While NCL will continue to press for a mandatory “Alcohol Facts” label, the efforts by the beer industry through the Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative represent an important step in the right direction and are welcomed by the nation’s consumers. NCL looks forward to working with the beer industry, other alcohol product manufacturers, and the TTB to ensure that that all alcoholic beverages have nutritional facts on a standardized label by a date certain. We commend the Beer Institute for leading the way.

[1] 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Page 104.

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL Public Policy Intern Tom Pahl

The complete picture: The need for alcohol labeling

NCL Public Policy Intern Tom PahlBy Tom Pahl, NCL Policy Intern

Tom Pahl is a 2021 graduate of Skidmore College, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science.

Just about every consumable food and drug product has a label with information about the contents—from over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, sodas, and chips to the candy bars we nab from a convenience store. And consumers rely on these labels to make sound purchasing decisions. Surveys show that about 77 percent of Americans use the standardized Nutrition Facts label required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Yet, there is one type of consumable product where we don’t have this option: alcoholic beverages.

It is not an overstatement to say that alcoholic beverages have been part of human civilization since early humankind. Archeologists trace the first wine drinks to China around 7000 BC. Additionally, beverage alcohol has a fabled history in the United States, underscored by the so-called “noble experiment” called Prohibition from 1920-1933. In fact, Prohibition is the reason that regulation of most alcoholic beverages—including content labeling—is the responsibility of the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

Yet, the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, passed in 1935, created an exception to the rule. When alcoholic beverages contain more than 7 percent alcohol by volume, a standard measure known as ABV, TTB requires alcohol labeling. However, below 7 percent ABV, alcohol labeling falls under the purview of the FDA. This means different requirements for grape wine, sparkling or carbonated wine, fruit wine, saké, wine coolers, cider, and de-alcoholized or partially de-alcoholized wine. The requirements also apply to beers not made from malted barley, but instead malted barley substitutes, or made without hops like kombucha and gluten-free beer.

Why does this matter? Because alcoholic beverages regulated by FDA have the same standardized Nutrition Facts label as a soft drink (along with the ABV). This includes hard ciders and sparking wines that have taken the world by a storm in the past few years. In contrast, TTB allows the manufacturers of all other alcoholic beverages to “decide” whether to include nutritional labeling and, guess what? Surprise, surprise, the vast majority have no nutritional labels. Even more confounding, in any refrigerator, a bottle of beer and a bottle of hard cider made by the same company—to wit, Sam Addams beer and Angry Orchard Cider, made by the Boston Brewing Company—the beer has no nutritional information and the cider is fully labeled, proving that unless companies are required to label, they don’t do it!

It is true that TTB requires beer, spirits and wine makers to put specific information on product labels – including the type of alcohol, the alcohol content (ABV or proof), the net contents of the beverage, the coloring materials used, whether the beverage contains allergens, and the country of origin. As important as they are, these facts have nothing to do with health and nutrition and this information is more important than ever before due to the epidemic of obesity in the United States (almost 20 percent of men and 6 percent of women consume more than 300 calories from alcohol per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and higher rates of diet-related diseases.

We know that when required by FDA, alcohol beverage manufacturers have figured out how to put a complete alcohol content label on their products. National Consumers League, along with other consumer organizations and public health groups, will continue to press TTB to issue a final rule requiring a mandatory Alcohol Facts label on all beer, wine and distilled spirits products. In 2021, consumers deserve the kind of robust labeling we see on other foods and which consumers understand, use, and need to make informed buying choices.

Nancy Glick

2021 NCL Food Policy Priorities

Nancy GlickBy Nancy Glick, Director of Food and Nutrition Policy

With the enactment of the American Rescue Plan, the new Biden Administration will bring about important changes to overcome one of the most urgent problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic: millions of Americans are facing hunger in the U.S. and many of them are children. According to the latest Household Pulse Survey from the Census Bureau, over 25 million people do not have enough food to eat some of the time or often.[1]

Yet, this is just one of the food-related challenges encountered during the pandemic. About 110,000 restaurants have closed permanently[2], retail food prices went up an average of 3.4 percent in 2020[3], and the amount of food waste, estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply before the pandemic[4], has grown exponentially. Additionally, and unrelated to the pandemic, the recently released 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans underscores an explosion of obesity and diet-related diseases in America. Some disturbing findings are that 6 in 10 adults have one or more diet-related chronic diseases and seven percent of children and teens have been diagnosed with high blood cholesterol levels.

All these problems affect the lives of all Americans, which is why the National Consumers League (NCL) will intensify our education and advocacy in 2021 to advance healthier eating, improve food safety, reduce food insecurity, and address food waste.

We focus our efforts on where we can have the most impact, taking action to:

1. Elevate portion control and balance as a consumer issue

NCL will advance the Dietary Guidelines’ recommendation to achieve a healthy balance of food choices by emphasizing the importance of portion control and ensure consumers know the recommended daily intake of calories is 2,000 per day. We also want to encourage greater use of “My Plate,” a plan developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help consumers personalize their portions for various food groups—what and how much to eat, based on one’s age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level.[5]

2. Reduce excess sodium in the diet

NCL is greatly concerned that Americans on average consume 50 percent more sodium per day than recommended by the Dietary Guidelines. Because this increases the risk for hypertension, heart disease and heart attacks, and stroke, we will advance the goal set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lower sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day and encourage consumers to flavor foods with herbs and spices instead of salt, and use the Nutrition Facts label to choose products with less sodium, reduced sodium or no salt (sodium) added.

3. Improve the labeling of alternative sweeteners

NCL applauds FDA’s decision to include “Added Sugars” on the recently updated Nutrition Facts label but we remain concerned about how novel sweeteners are labeled. Therefore, NCL is supporting a Citizen’s Petition to FDA to ensure transparent labeling of substitute sweeteners and has joined with other consumer groups in urging FDA to stop misleading claims, such as “No Added Sugars,” “Zero Sugar,” and “Reduced Sugars.” These claims imply the new product is healthier than the original, without disclosing that the sugar reduction resulted from reformulating with artificial substances and sugar alcohols.

4. Make alcohol facts labeling mandatory

Since 2003, NCL and 75 other consumer, public health, medical and nutrition organizations have pressed the federal agency that regulates alcoholic beverages—the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade (TTB)—to issue rules requiring an easy-to-read, standardized “Alcohol Facts” label on all beer, wine, and distilled spirits products. Currently, TTB has opted for voluntary labeling and the result is that many products remain unlabeled or carry incomplete labeling information. We are not giving up! In 2021, NCL will step up the fight to ensure complete labeling information on alcoholic beverages.

5. Require labeling of caffeine content

FDA considers 400 mg of caffeine per day as the amount not generally associated with dangerous side effects. An 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 95 mg of caffeine, a 12 ounce can of Coca-Cola has 34 mg, high caffeine drinks may have 160 mg for 16-ounces. The FDA only requires food labels to disclose that there is added caffeine in the food or beverage. This makes it hard for consumers to stay within the recommended limit because they don’t know how much caffeine is in the foods and beverages they consume. For this reason, NCL strongly believes that all products containing caffeine should be required to list the amount of caffeine per serving and per container and we will push for that requirement.

  1. Modernize food standards of identity

“Standards of identity” establish recipes for what a food product must contain, how it must be proportioned, and sometimes how it must be manufactured. However, many food standards are now 75 and even 80 years old and out of date. This is why NCL supports FDA’s action plan to modernize food standards of identity, but we are also calling attention to several food products—such as olive oil, Greek yogurt, and canned tuna—where issuing new or updated standards of identity are needed now.

7. Revise the definition of the term “healthy” and front of pack food labeling symbols

Currently, a food can be labeled “healthy” if the amount customarily consumed is low in fat, low in saturated fat, contains less than 480 mg of sodium, has a limited cholesterol, a significant amount of fiber, and at least 2 additional beneficial nutrients such as vitamins A, C, D, calcium, iron, protein or potassium. This will change because FDA recently modified how low fat will be calculated. While NCL supports this step, we will press FDA to address if and how added sugar content is calculated and will encourage FDA to adopt a “Traffic Light” labeling system to depict “healthy” on the front of the package.

8. Strengthen the food safety system

NCL will work individually and as a member of the Safe Food Coalition to make improvements in the nation’s food safety system. Priorities include finalizing FDA’s Food Traceability Proposed Rule, which would establish a standardized approach to traceability recordkeeping; expanding pathogen testing in meat and poultry products; and updating safe handling instructions labels for these products.

9. Reduce the amount of food waste

Every year, about 90 billion pounds of food goes uneaten in the US, with huge environmental and food insecurity consequences. To change this food waste crisis, NCL will raise awareness of food loss and waste and inform consumers about how they can reduce food waste in their homes and when they go out to eat.

10. Increase funding and access to federal nutrition programs

NCL will work to make permanent the 15 percent Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits increase now included in the American Relief Plan, while also pressing for additional funding for the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program.

Conclusion: Advancing a policy agenda that ensures transparent food labeling, improves the safety and quality of the foods people eat, reduces food insecurity, and addresses food waste is essential to improving American’s lives. The stakes are high and NCL is committed to making a difference for consumers


[1] U.S. Census Bureau. Household Pulse Survey. May 20, 2020

[2] National Restaurant Association. COVID-19 Restaurant Impact Survey V. December 2, 2020

[3] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Price Index Summary. March 10, 2021

[4] Food and Drug Administration. Food Loss and Waste. February 23, 2021

[5] The National Confectioners Association “Always a Treat” consumer education campaign is one example of how portion control can be easily utilized to control calorie consumption and achieve the dietary patterns recommended in the Dietary Guidelines. As part of this campaign, leading chocolate and candy companies have pledged that half of their individually wrapped products will be available in sizes that contain 200 calories or less per pack.

Is it a meat product or not?

By Nailah John, Program Associate

My husband has a great desire for meatless products, so on my weekly grocery shopping visits, I find myself standing in the freezer aisle for minutes reading the confusing labels on these meatless products. Many of the labels illustrated on the front of the packages usually have an image of a burger or chicken nuggets and can be difficult to distinguish between actually meat products. The packaging displays verbiage like Chik, Steaklet, Well Carved, Chick N’Mix, and are placed in areas where grocery shoppers purchase regular meat products, which makes it all the easier for consumers to mistakenly purchase meatless products.

Plant-based burgers and faux-chicken nuggets are the new trend and many consumers either want to try it or have fallen in love with the product. According to a poll done by Gallup in 2020, 41 percent of adults in the U.S. have tried a plant-based meat product. The study illustrated that about half of Americans are familiar with a plant-based product. The overall takeaway? Plant-based products are in fact getting pretty big so their popularity is growing. Many consumers of plant-based products have expressed that they are cutting back on their meat consumption. Health, the environment, and animal welfare are all cited as major reasons why. With more and more Americans trying these plant-based products labeling should be precise, not misleading.

Many industry leaders continue to recommend that these products should not use wording like “vegan” or “vegetarian” because it may turn away potential customers. It is also suggested that putting meat-free options in a separate vegetarian section of the menu or in the vegetarian section of a grocery store could reduce sales. The term plant-based has been the alternative to the word vegan which is more appealing to the consumers.

However lucrative marketing buzz words may be, the wording and imaging for products should reflect what the consumer is purchasing. This wordplay and product placement tactics are being used to bamboozle consumers.

We all have a right to know what is in our food, how it is produced, and where it is from. We also have the right as consumers to demand clear labeling. It’s challenging to stand in a grocery store for 5 to 10 minutes just trying to be sure that the plant-based product we’re looking to buy is actually plant-based. The labels and imagery do not reflect this by showing chicken-like nuggets, burgers, meatballs, and other imagery that sends a false message to our minds. As a consumer, I no longer want to be confused. I want to be able to easily differentiate between real meat and plant-based meat products.

The evolution of American alcohol policy — and what’s next

By Nailah John, Program Associate

Alcohol is consumed by billions of consumers the world over. Humans drink alcohol for many reasons, including enjoying the taste or coping with stress while others consume alcohol because of social influences. More than 85 percent of people around the world consume alcohol. America’s alcohol policy has seen many ups and downs over many decades from prohibition in the 1920s to the end of prohibition in 1933, National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1988, the Alcohol Beverage Labeling Act 1988 (ABLA), and the continued efforts for a “Nutritional Facts Label” on all alcoholic beverages by consumer advocacy groups.

Every other consumable product on the supermarket shelves is required to have a Nutritional Facts Label. That label has a list of required information about a food’s nutrient content, such as the calories, protein, vitamins, fat, sugar, sodium, and fiber. This is critically important consumer information for guiding healthy choices.

After Prohibition In 1935, the Federal Alcohol Administration governed alcohol regulation. In 2003, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) was formed, and alcohol continued to be regulated by this federal agency. Since the 1970s, consumer advocacy groups have worked for a comprehensive label on all alcoholic products. In 2003, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the National Consumers League made a hard push for a nutritional facts label. Manufacturers asked for voluntary labels, making the argument that putting nutrition facts on all bottled of alcohol would make consumers think that alcohol was nutritious. In 2004, TTB sided with manufacturers and issued guidelines that allowed them to list calories, carbs, protein, and fat­—but only if they wished to do so voluntarily. In 2021, NCL and other groups are recommitting ourselves to this consumer information campaign.

The Dietary Guidelines 2020-2025 lay out the existing recommendations for sugar and alcohol, which recommend moderate alcohol consumption––up to one alcoholic drink per day for women and up to two per day for men. The CDC warns that alcohol consumption is associated with a variety of short and long-term health risks: high blood pressure, various cancers, motor vehicle accidents, violence, and sexually risky behavior. The CDC guidelines also note that pregnant women should refrain from alcohol consumption and that those with certain condition should avoid alcohol. That is true as well with certain medications.

More than half—55 percent—of Americans say they have had alcohol in the past month. An estimated 14.5 million American adults age 12 and older battled an alcohol use disorder, or 5.3 percent of this population. The bottom line is that if you drink, do so in moderation per the CDC and DGAC guidelines. And join with consumer advocates fighting for a nutritional facts label to be put on all alcoholic beverages.