Health experts say low carb beer misleads consumers

Friday 4 December, 2009

The Alcohol Policy Coalition (the Coalition) is today calling on the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to address the need for factual alcohol labelling in response to a rise in misleading health claims, such as ‘low carbohydrate' on beer products around Australia.

"New marketing strategies, such as Coopers selling its beer as a ‘body nutrient', are positioning beer as a healthy product and this is simply false advertising," said Craig Sinclair, Director Cancer Prevention Centre, Cancer Council of Victoria.

"Labelling has been on the COAG agenda since March 2008 and, with a rise in misleading health claims on alcohol products, it needs to be addressed now more than ever," said Mr Sinclair.

Recent research shows that consumers believe low carb beer contributes to weight loss and is a healthier option than regular beer. Factual information about alcohol should be spelled out on the product packaging, namely a complete list of ingredients and health information.

"Current labelling standards that allow nutrition claims to be placed on alcohol products, such as ‘low carbohydrate', do not account for the inherent harms associated with alcohol. This misleads consumers because it allows nutrition claims to be associated with products that are effectively empty of nutrients and overall, unhealthy," added Mr Sinclair.

At least 43 countries require some form of on-product labelling, with 14 of these having mandatory health warning labels primarily around alcohol use and pregnancy.

Alcohol has short and long term health and safety risks when consumed inappropriately. It is therefore essential that consumers are equipped with the right information to enable them to make informed decisions about consumption. Health and safety advice that is relevant to consumers' choice of type and amount of alcoholic beverage is therefore critical.

Studies have shown that health and warning labels have the potential to influence awareness and attitudes. Achieving behavioural change is a complex process, and the Coalition stresses that health information warning labels need to be just one part of the equation when informing people about the health risks associated with the harmful consumption of alcohol.

In a recent submission to the Federal Government's Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy, the Coalition says consumers have the right to know what is in alcohol products so that they can make an informed decision about the drinks they purchase and consume.

Australia's Coles supermarket chain has this week released its addition - Maxx Blonde - to the fastgrowing low carb beer market, worth a reported nearly $600 million a year, sparking renewed concern by leading health groups.

The demand for labels on alcohol products is driven by alcohol's impact on public health coupled with the public's right to nutritional information and consumer protection. Knowing the facts about alcohol helps consumers to make informed choices about what and how much they drink.

In Australia the harmful use of alcohol

  • costs the Australian community 15.3 billion dollars each year from crime and violence, treatment, loss of productivity and death;
  • more than 3,000 Australians die each year as a result of harmful drinking and
  • more than 450,000 children (13.2 per cent) live in households where they are at risk of exposure to binge drinking by at least one adult.

A recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that public health problems associated with alcohol consumption have reached alarming proportions, and alcohol has become one of the most important risks to health globally.

The Council of Australian Governments will be meeting in Queensland on Monday 7 December 2009.