MPs call for clarity on low alcohol and alcohol-free drinks labelling


Politicians from all parties will today (7 March) call for new, clear regulation on the labelling of low alcohol and alcohol-free drinks.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Alcohol Harm will be joined by charity Alcohol Research UK and Club Soda, the mindful drinking movement.

Alcohol alternatives are increasing in popularity, but the way these drinks are labelled is confusing, primarily because the regulations surrounding their labelling are unclear – and due to expire. The organisations believe if these are not replaced with better regulations, consumers will be left in the dark.

In a survey of more than 500 consumers, conducted by Alcohol Research UK and Club Soda last month, 86% of respondents said they bought these products because they were looking to cut down their overall drinking.

However, many were confused by the labels, and found it hard to make sense of terms such as ‘alcohol-free’, ‘low alcohol’, ‘dealcoholised’ and ‘non-alcoholic’ – all of which currently have a different legal definition. Some products also use the term ‘light’ or ‘lite’ to mean low alcohol, where others use it to refer to calories.

Of respondents, 56% expected that a ‘low-alcohol’ beer would only contain up to 0.5% alcohol, whereas ‘low alcohol’ products can currently contain up to 1.2% alcohol. Some felt ‘alcohol-free’ should mean absolutely no alcohol, while others were happy for it to mean drinks of up 0.5% alcohol.

Fiona Bruce, chair of the APPG on Alcohol Harm, said: “In the UK we’re waking up to the harm alcohol can cause, and many are choosing to cut down as a result. An increasing number of us are choosing to drink low alcohol and alcohol-free alternatives. But labelling is lagging behind consumer demand.

“The Department of Health must give us common-sense regulations around the labelling of alcohol alternative drinks, so that we can make informed choices about our health.”

Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of the new charity formed by the merger of Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK, added: “We are joined by MPs from across the political spectrum in calling for the Department of Health to improve the regulations to ensure #ClarityForConsumers on low alcohol and alcohol-free products.

“As it stands, drinkers and retailers alike are confused by the misleading labels out there, and this situation is due to get a whole lot worse. As we can see by the increasing popularity of Dry January, more and more of us are taking control of our relationship with alcohol, and alcohol alternative drinks are one way to do that. But for us to reap the benefits of increasing choice in adult drinks, we need new regulations that are clear, consistent, and comprehensible. Critically, these regulations must be strongly influenced by what consumers themselves say they want and need.”