Nearly 20 years ago, health advocates in the US – including four deans of colleges of public health – petitioned the federal government to improve labelling information on alcohol (for ingredients, calories and alcohol content).
Nothing happened with their petition.
So on Monday, a few weeks ahead of the celebratory US Thanksgiving, they sued to try to get some action.
Named in the suit was the US Department of Treasury, which needs every alcohol tax dollar it can lay its hands on, and US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen.
- Advertisement -
The timing is not bad. The better-labelling movement means business, and with President Joe Biden at the helm, it likely has the best chance yet of getting attention. Biden has turned his attention towards Americans’ health.
Most lately, the president chose to make many products easier to be labelled with a health claim.
Like Canadians, Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. Nor do they consume enough dairy to meet their dietary needs. And the obesity crisis there is plowing ahead. The US is one of the world’s least healthy countries, with the 12th highest obesity rate of any nation, and No. 1 among developed countries. An estimated 33 per cent of the population is obese.
And that just doesn’t seem sustainable.
So Biden wants Americans to eat better, by making it easier for them to identify healthy commodities and products sporting labels that extol the products’ health and nutrition virtues.
Of course, the flipside is that products not labelled healthy will be second class. And who wants to feed that to their families? So it’s a silent punishment for nutritional offenders. The thinking is that side-by-side product comparisons with clearer and more helpful labels will lead consumers to make healthier choices.
Where alcohol fits into the labelling argument is not complicated. Alcohol consumption that goes beyond moderation – which is popularly believed to be two drinks a day or 14 drinks a week – is increasingly implicated in health woes related to liver and heart disease, and cancer. In some cases, ingredients that could be allergenic to some people are part of alcoholic drinks.
On the other hand, moderate alcohol consumption, particularly red wine, is said to have some health benefits.
But nothing works in a vacuum. Two drinks a day, a sedentary lifestyle and a lousy diet is a recipe for disaster. So are no drinks a day, a sedentary lifestyle and a lousy diet.
That’s a big factor that makes labelling so controversial. Labelling can make individual commodities look like they’re the ticket to better health. And really, they’re not. They’re helpful when part of a healthy lifestyle. But individually, they’re no panacea.
Few of us drink alcohol for its health benefits. Similarly, are we counting calories when we imbibe, like we will this Thanksgiving weekend? Probably not.
But when the chips are down like they are for the health of US citizens, authorities are inclined to push back on all levels. And who can blame them? Nothing else is working.