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Update: Wine nutrition labels

Wine-label-serving

Not coming soon to a wine bottle near you — the nutritional content of wine.

In which there is no update at all. Which probably means that the plan to put a box with the calories, ingredients and the like on wine is dead.

The official word from Thomas Hogue, the spokesman for the the federal agency overseeing the proposal, is that there is nothing to report about what is officially known as "serving facts" information for wine. The proposal has taken many shapes since it was first brought up in 2003 (so long ago I wrote a newspaper story about it, which appeared in another form here), but it would mostly look like the current serving facts box on light beer.

Representatives of WineAmerica and the Wine Institutute, the trade groups that represent most of the country's wine producers, also said they weren't aware of any developments. They have followed the proposal because their members, for the most part, don't want to be forced to add the labels.

More, after the jump:


So what happened? At one point, the federal government said it expected to publish the new guidelines in 2010. Why has a proposal languished that consumer groups fought so hard for? And which seems so sensible? Two main reasons.

First, serving facts would apply to not just wine, but beer and spirits, and there was determined opposition from each industry (which may be the only time the three actually agreed on anything). They cited a variety of objections, from adding to the bottle clutter — it already has the alcohol warning, retail scan code and breathless prose about the wine — to the cost of adding the serving facts, which they said would be especially difficult for smaller producers given the recession. 

In addition, an important part of the serving facts proposal was linking serving size to the beverage's alcohol content — the more alcohol in a product, the smaller the recommended serving size. This seems straightforward, but it upset many in each group, and it had craft beer producers in an especial tizzy. Most beer is about five percent alcohol, but craft beers can be twice that, and producers didn't want a label that said one bottle of their product contained two servings of beer compared to one serving for one bottle of grocery store beer.

The second reason was the recession itself, which focused the Obama Administration and its Treasury Department (which oversees liquor regulation) on saving the world economic system from collapse. Which made serving facts seem a lot less important.

So why is the proposal likely never to be implemented? This is an election year, so something this controversial will be shelved until after November. Then, if President Obama is re-elected, it may show up again. But keep in mind that his administration has never shown any enthusiasm for the project. If the Republicans win the White House, serving facts will certainly be seen as another layer of government interference that isn't needed.

This will eventually raise the question of why we have serving facts on something as innocuous as ketchup, but not on beer, wine and spirits. But we'll save that fun for another day.

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