News release: Labour Party announces plan for mandatory alcohol labelling

Maddy Lawson | June 2019 | 8 minutes

Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Jonathan Ashworth MP has announced today (Wednesday 19 June), at charity Alcohol Change UK’s national conference, that accurate alcohol labels, which include the UK’s drinking guidelines and nutritional information, will be mandatory under a Labour government.

Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Jonathan Ashworth MP has announced today (Wednesday 19 June), at charity Alcohol Change UK’s national conference, that accurate alcohol labels, which include the UK’s drinking guidelines and nutritional information, will be mandatory under a Labour government.

As it stands, alcohol labelling is largely self-regulated by the alcohol industry. This system has led to a situation in which:

  • Two years after new low-risk drinking guidelines were introduced, two-thirds of products still referred to out-of-date daily or weekly limits or had no reference to the guidelines at all. This included products that were launched after the publication of the new guidelines;[i]
  • New research conducted by BBC Panorama (presented by Adrian Chiles, aired 10 June 2019) found that only 14 out of 100 alcohol product labels displayed the current guidelines;
  • Some labels suggest that men can safely drink twice as much as current guidelines state.
  • Only 16% of the public are aware of the current low-risk drinking guidelines;[ii]
  • Only one in 10 people link cancer to alcohol consumption, despite alcohol being a group 1 carcinogen – the same category as tobacco.[iii] Alcohol causes 11,900 cancer cases in the UK each year.[iv]

Consumers are clear that there should be increased transparency: 70% of people want it to be a legal requirement for alcohol labels to state that drinking more that the low-risk guidelines can damage one’s health.[v]

Jonathan Ashworth MP, speaking at Alcohol Change UK’s conference, said:

“Tackling alcohol abuse must be at the heart of the prevention agenda yet there’s more nutritional information on a carton of milk than a bottle of wine.

“It’s time for full transparency for consumers with alcohol labelling – the current voluntary approach is simply not fit for purpose. The industry hasn’t moved at a pace to keep up with consumers’ expectations who want correct and comprehensive information so they can make fully informed choices.

“It’s an utter abdication of responsibility for government to task the Chief Medical Officer with updating the guidelines and then not oblige the industry to display this vital information on their products.

“No wonder some ask whether we can rely on an industry to promote public health when it’s not in its commercial interests? Excuse the pun, but the industry have been drinking in the last chance saloon for too long.

“Labelling including alcohol content in units, nutritional information, pregnancy warnings, and the Chief Medical Officer’s drinking guidelines must now be made mandatory. If the current government won’t act, then the next Labour government will.”

Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK, said:

“As it stands, the alcohol industry’s self-regulation of labelling is failing – and has been for some time. Alcohol producers are being allowed to pick and choose what information to include on their labels, and it is consumers who lose out, as we are not being given the information we need to make informed decisions about our drinking. The alcohol industry’s interests are being placed above the health of citizens.

“This announcement from Labour at our conference today is a sign that things are changing. MPs from across political parties such as Liam Byrne, Caroline Flint, George Freeman and Jonathan Ashworth himself have shared their personal stories of the terrible harm alcohol can cause, and this has been instrumental in turning the tide towards action on alcohol harm. Forward-thinking policies around alcohol have the potential to save the NHS money, cut crime and save thousands of lives across the UK each year.

“We hope that the Government also makes the common-sense commitment to make improved alcohol labelling mandatory.”

The Labour Party announces this new policy as the newest element of its alcohol strategy, which includes:

  • Rolling out Alcohol Care Teams across hospitals;
  • Fully funding alcohol addiction recovery treatment services;
  • A national strategy to support families and children of substance misuse, backed up by clear national standards;
  • Better links between alcohol addiction treatment services and mental health services.

Ashworth has had personal experience of the harm caused by alcohol, growing up with an alcohol dependent father. On the Labour Party’s wider alcohol strategy, he said:

“Confronting the devastating social impact of alcohol is not just a priority of mine for very personal reasons but because 20 people a day die as a direct result of alcohol, and 24,000 a year die where alcohol was a factor.

“Yet less than 20 per cent of people in need of treatment for alcohol dependence are getting the support needed after years of deep Tory cuts to local alcohol services. Since 2013/14, drug and alcohol services have been cut by £162million.”

“Those struggling with drink need the very best care possible to help them with their recovery which is why Labour will fully fund alcohol treatment services. The government must now follow our lead by reversing public health cuts in the upcoming Spending Review. When £1 spent on treatment saves the NHS £3.40 it makes no sense for any government minister to continue with these cuts.”

The Government also committed, in 2018, to producing an alcohol strategy by Spring 2019, which has not yet been published.

ENDS

For more information and interviews with Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK, please contact Maddy Lawson: maddy.lawson@alcoholchange.org.uk.

[i] Alcohol Health Alliance 2018

[ii] Alcohol Health Alliance 2018

[iii] International Agency for Research on Cancer. Consumption of alcoholic beverages. IARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risks to Humans. 2012;100E.

[iv] Brown, K. et al. The fraction of cancer attributable to modifiable risk factors in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom in 2015. British Journal of Cancer 2018.

[v] Alcohol Health Alliance 2018