Calorie labels for alcohol

October 22nd, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labels revealing how costly a glass of wine or beer could be in terms of weight gain could soon be on the way, as the Government explores making them mandatory.

manufacturers already label drinks with standard drink measurements and some voluntary health warnings.

Now, the Government is considering adding another requirement – labelling the number of kilojoules each drink contains.

I am 100% in favour of this. If we want people to make informed choices, then knowing the energy level of what we eat or drink is the best way to do that. Almost all other food and drink sold has calorie counts – it has been strange that alcohol does not.

Personally I think including such information would have a significant impact on how much some people drink. I know I drink far less now, knowing how much weight you put on with a few beers or wines.

Food Standards has commissioned a cost-benefit analysis on the concept, including looking at how energy labels might change buying and consumption.

Good.

Eric Crampton is less enthused, and has some sensible suggestions about how to reduce the burden of any regime:

  • Exempt small-batch products;
  • Exempt imports;
  • Require vendors selling exempt products to put up a notice somewhere saying “The alcohol in one standard drink provides 290 kilojoules.”
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36 Responses to “Calorie labels for alcohol”

  1. Cato (1,094 comments) says:

    I severely curtailed my alcohol consumption about a year ago for calorific reasons. It has been a big help to weight loss, I have to say.

    That being said, we should be wary of conceding to the coercion of virtue? Where do we stop? What’s the limiting principle? Think about the plain packaging debate.

    [DPF: There is a significant difference between saying we require you to include this info on your label, and saying we wish to ban you using your own branding.

    I note almost every other item of food or beverage already includes a calorie count. It is weird that alcohol does not]

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  2. Lance (2,439 comments) says:

    “Exempt imports”

    That just about covers the entire market place in NZ

    NZ manufacturers have huge compliance costs and imports generally have no compliance marks, no Supplier Declarations or any other such legal requirements and nobody gives a shit.
    Expect the threatening letters from NZ compliance agencies even when you do the onerous compliance measures.

    It’s a fucked up market.

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  3. dave_c_ (214 comments) says:

    And before you all weigh into me ! Think again – where will this all lead ?
    No doubt couch manufacturers will be required to attach a health warning to each couch manufactured and sold here !
    “Sitting in this couch for more than an hour a day can lead to adverse health outcomes”
    “Plush couches will attract a further 10 percent on the price, to pay for the health issues of couch potatoes”
    The mind boggles at the nanny state lunacy we are being forced to endure

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  4. Camryn (550 comments) says:

    Many people don’t know what to do with existing labeling because it tends to be in kilojoules but they think in calories. I’m sure it’s a simple conversion, but most people just think “I don’t know what that means, so I’m going to eat this anyway” whereas they’d actually react to values in calories.

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  5. Nigel Kearney (864 comments) says:

    People can also make the informed choice of preferring items with a calorie label to those without. The fatties have no business imposing costs on the rest of us. And ex-fatties are the worst, just like ex-smokers.

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  6. calendar girl (1,172 comments) says:

    Nanny state at it again!

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  7. MarkF (93 comments) says:

    @Camryn Agreed should be in both as the conversion is simple but does not use “simple numbers”. 100 kcal = 418 kj or 100kj = 23.9kcal. It’s pretty close to 4 to 1 and that maybe enough for most people.

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  8. dime (9,368 comments) says:

    Id like to see Nutritional info on alcohol.

    Would prefer self regulating though.

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  9. Longknives (4,411 comments) says:

    We all know the left (for whatever batshit insane reasons) want to ban alcohol yet legalise Cannabis etc
    This seems to me a victory for them.
    Slippery slope etc etc

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  10. MT_Tinman (2,985 comments) says:

    How fucking wet!

    Anyone with a brain knows that alcohol intake can affect weight although I seldom see a fat alcoholic begging on the streets – maybe you should label them instead ;-)

    I’m a fat bastard. a 60yo fat bastard.

    The one piece of advice I’m given by old people on a daily basis is “Don’t get old”.

    Instead of trying to make everyone a miserable skinny prick living for the sake of living, tying up tax-payer money for the privilege why doesn’t the government promote the opposite? Promote what used to be what people aimed for.

    Be fat, be happy, die young(ish) and don’t burden the poor bastards working for your living.

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  11. Crampton (214 comments) says:

    @Lance: adding calorie counts for any larger-scale product run wouldn’t be too expensive – a minor change to the label. Full nutritional labeling with carb counts would start taking up a lot of valuable real estate on the bottle. But the reason for exempting imports is simply that other markets won’t typically think it’s worthwhile adding a different label just to make little old NZ happy. If they do, then they have to segment their product lines and have a dedicated NZ run. This has to increase costs to NZ consumers. And fixes where NZ retailers have to add stickers to bottles make retailers less likely to carry those imported products.

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  12. Pete George (22,754 comments) says:

    Crampton – I presume you’re meaning imports that come into the country packaged, some alcohol products are packaged here or are specially labeled for New Zealand.

    I don’t see a problem with exempting alcohol that’s imported already packaged and labelled. There will be enough local product that is labeled with calories/kilojoules for drinkers to easily learn how much is in each standard drink or bottle.

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  13. gump (1,474 comments) says:

    Eric Crampton said:

    “Require vendors selling exempt products to put up a notice somewhere saying “The alcohol in one standard drink provides 290 kilojoules”

    ———————

    That ignores the calorific value of the sugar and all the other nutrients.

    RTDs have a shitload of sugar within them. It’s a mystery why they aren’t required to be labelled.

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  14. Sadu (128 comments) says:

    I have often wondered why all other food products have to declare their nutritional data whereas alcohol does not. Seems like this change is long overdue to me.

    I would absolutely want to compare energy content between different types of drinks when making a purchase decision. I don’t see why alcohol should be exempt from the food labelling requirements that apply to other drinks.

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  15. Crampton (214 comments) says:

    @Pete: Agree, yes, it’s the products packaged and labeled overseas that I’m here worried about.
    @gump: Agree that RTDs will have lots of sugar, etc. Again, my biggest worry is imposing disproportionate cost on small-batch producers and on making it harder to import product. Does anybody really think that “Woodstock and Cola” has less calories than a similar can of cola though?

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  16. All_on_Red (1,336 comments) says:

    Gee , might work if only we didn’t have 20% of our population who can’t read very well…
    Makes it all a bit pointless really

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  17. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    Longknives (3,152) Says:
    October 22nd, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    We all know the left (for whatever batshit insane reasons) want to ban alcohol yet legalise Cannabis etc…

    Ban alcohol? I suspect not.

    http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/photo.jpeg

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  18. The Scorned (719 comments) says:

    Forget the Calories in-out BS…it’s redundant where weight loss is concerned. The real culprit is insulin reacting to sugar and carb’s in ones diet and storing them as triglycerides…(body fat)

    All the “Low fat” BS we are bombed with is precisely the completely wrong advice for people prone to weight gain and diabetes…

    Sweden has woken up to this just recently….when will we here?

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  19. lolitasbrother (469 comments) says:

    Sue Kedgley bless her soul strived for clear meaningful labels.
    Ask people if they know what a kilojoule is. Kilojoules don’t exist, Nanny State .
    Most New Zealanders work in Calories, [ the common usage of a Calorie actually being 1000 calories]
    Remembering the actual calorie numbers for your alcohol is is easier than reading misleading labels.
    Forget about standard drinks, and servings, take the gross attitude

    Alcohol is 7 calories per gram
    Beer = often 5% alcohol 50gram/ litre *7calorie = 350 Calorie per litre
    [ double it if you drink Chang beer loaded with sugar ]
    400 calories a good figure to remember [ per litre ] various bottle sizes, you can work out the Calories for your favourite brew. Add extra for sugar.

    Wine – 12% 120 gram per litre * 7 Calorie = 840 Calorie per litre
    One bottle of wine is 750 ml * litre * 7 Calorie = 600 Calories
    600 Calories the figure to remember

    Whisky, Spirits 40% 400 gram *7 = 2800 calories per litre , 280 calories per 100ml

    On all sorts of contained products it will say something like: 100 Calories per serving it will say.
    Great, now you have to find out how much a serving is.
    My God ten servings in this little bottle of Thai sweet sauce, good grief that’s 80% sugar.

    Not many people can convert kilojoules to Calories, Calories per serving,
    and then from there to total Calories within the product.
    Many notices like to disguise sugar by notifying
    Carbohydrates 22%. Reads harmless doesn’t it until you find out the Carbohydrates are all sugar
    And notice the writing is so small you can’t read it at all unless you bring out your 3.5 telescope glasses ..
    Pick up any product off the shelf and another friendly shopper, How many Nanny Calories in this bottle.
    They can’t do it, because the label is designed to confuse.

    A word of warning If you give up booze to lose weight do not expect arithmetic formulas to apply to weight loss. In theory 1 kg of fat [ 9 Calories per gram ] is 9000 Calories.
    At a bottle of wine a day [ 750 ml ] over a month, you are taking in 30 * 600 calories = 18,000
    Calories. But don’t hope to lose 2 kg per month by abstinence. I tried it.
    As Scorned immediately above 2.58pm says about storage and Insulin
    In reality losing 1kg per month is good going.

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  20. The Scorned (719 comments) says:

    Heh

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  21. Rick Rowling (801 comments) says:

    More useful would be “this beverage contains the same kilojoules as 1.5 Moro bars”.

    Also “drinking this beverage can lead to significant weight gain over the next 9 months”.

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  22. The Scorned (719 comments) says:

    If you stick to drinking straight spirits with diet mixer you won’t put on fat by that. Beer and wine are very different…avoid.

    All the actual alcohol does is stop the fat burning process called Ketosis”…it gets burned off first by the body before other fuel sources…If you eat a high sat fat,medium protein,low carb diet you will reset your body,tame your insulin and lose body fat….and do a whole lot of other beneficial things for your health to boot.

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  23. gump (1,474 comments) says:

    @longknives

    “We all know the left (for whatever batshit insane reasons) want to ban alcohol yet legalise Cannabis etc”

    —————–

    Legalization of cannabis isn’t a right wing or left wing issue.

    Unless you’re arguing that The Economist magazine is a left wing publication?

    It’s a fact that alcohol carries a higher social cost than cannabis.

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  24. Alan Wilkinson (1,815 comments) says:

    Health warning on all food: “Eating can make you fat. Stupidity helps too.”

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  25. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    gump (922) Says:
    October 22nd, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    It’s a fact that alcohol carries a higher social cost than cannabis.

    Facts? Pffft. :)

    Was just reading this from the White House.

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/ondcp-fact-sheets/marijuana-legalization


    “Use of the legal substances alcohol and tobacco far outpaces the use of marijuana (figure 2), a strong indication that laws reduce the availability and acceptability of substances.”

    Funny, they didn’t compare figures for Butane use, a substance which also legal but not as widely used. Of course that wouldn’t support the propaganda.

    Then we have this gem:


    Under the most commonly proposed legalization regime – one that imposes high taxes on marijuana – violent drug cartels would simply undercut legal prices to keep their market share. With increased demand for marijuana resulting from legalization, these groups would likely grow stronger.

    Y’know… just like how the gangs supply all the alcohol people drink. Of course the White House only makes a comparison to alcohol when it suits them. Otherwise they employ a ridiculously unrealistic hypothetical where the taxes are so high as to encourage illegal supply and destroy tax revenue.

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  26. gump (1,474 comments) says:

    The arguments for decriminalisation are pretty compelling to anyone with a functioning brain.

    Even the well known “left wing” political leader Don Brash has called for Cannabis to be decriminalised:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10754231

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  27. duggie (20 comments) says:

    I find it amusing how calories, which have a negative connotation, are labelled “energy”. Who doesn’t want more energy? I wonder how many people are fooled by this cunning nomenclature?

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  28. OneTrack (2,575 comments) says:

    Most people already know excessive alcohol will help you put on weight. We don’t need more nanny state putting more labelling on that nobody reads.

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  29. Alan Wilkinson (1,815 comments) says:

    @duggie, calories are precisely a measure of heat energy. The public health/diet industry has co-opted them to estimate the energy available in various foods. What on earth do you think they mean?

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  30. Johnboy (14,911 comments) says:

    It is probably a good idea. They would have to put it in really large print.

    I have trouble reading the label on my second bottle of scotch, which is the one that is undoubtedly doing me the most harm. :)

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  31. jonno1 (79 comments) says:

    MarkF @12.48 is right (except that lower-case j is current density which is something else): 100 kJ = 23.9 kcal, so the kJ number is about 4x the kcal number (or ~4.2x to be a bit more precise). But there’s a trap here as sometimes the term calorie or cal (with a small c) omits the kilo or k prefix and is therefore out by a factor of 1000. Package labelling often uses Calorie or Cal with a capital C to denote kcal, but that presupposes the printer knows what he’s doing, so it pays to be cautious. In short, the SI derived unit kJ is preferable to the obsolete metric unit kcal.

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  32. Left Right and Centre (2,819 comments) says:

    The Scorned only shows up on KB when diet related threads appear.

    Questionable pseudo-science bullshit that he would not try himself. Hypocrite and weirdo.

    The Scone thinks you can eat unlimited butter and never gain weight. Do you believe that?

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  33. Left Right and Centre (2,819 comments) says:

    I can’t for the life of me imagine energy value labels making one iota of difference to the market size for beer and wine.

    My prediction? Zero change caused by energy labels. ‘Some people’ is far too safe, arse-covering wording. I would go out on a limb and say ‘some people’ equates to ‘seriously fuck. all. people’

    It can’t hurt putting them on there though.

    If you’ve ever looked at street after street of recycling bins full to overflowing with glass…. some places have hundreds of bottles… you know that a fucking energy label is going to do exactly fucking nothing to that dirty great mass of empties. The amount of piss NZders go through is something else…. whoooooa!!

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  34. The Scorned (719 comments) says:

    LRC….maybe you need to get your head out of your arse and get up to speed with the science….

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2459915/Could-low-fat-diet-make-EVEN-FATTER-As-experts-question-conventional-wisdom-diets-extraordinary-results-mans-experiment.html

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  35. lolitasbrother (469 comments) says:

    One case only . I visited a friend who I hadn’t seen for thre months He had lost about 6kg. At first I got a fright . ‘I aid ‘ whats up’.
    Well all he had done was give up sugar. He used to eat bags of sweets at night in frontof his benchtop computer for hours , and then he just stopped . He did make some other dietary considerations, but mainly the sugar.

    I would have liked to hear from Mr. Farrar on this issue. He has been dramatically succesful.

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  36. Left Right and Centre (2,819 comments) says:

    Scone – You won’t even follow your own theory idiot. You won’t do the experiment yourself.

    I’m waiting to meet you and change your diet to see what happens to your weight. So keep talking bollocks mate.

    It’s a good thing no-one is going to listen to your bullshit.

    Science? Hah!! You’re a fuckwit. You say eat *unlimited quantities of fat*, no weight gain. You’re a fucking moron.

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