The licensed drinks industry has reacted strongly to the outcome of the low and no alcohol consultation published this week after the Department of Health said that there will be no changes to the descriptors for low and no alcohol products.
Brigid Simmonds, Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: “It is bitterly disappointing that the Department of Health has missed this opportunity to give consumers greater clarity when it comes to the labelling of low alcohol beers.
“Changing the current definition of ‘alcohol free’ beer from 0.05% ABV to 0.5% ABV – as we suggested during the consultation process – would have brought the UK in line with the rest of Europe and other global markets. This creates the perverse situation whereby beers at 0.5% ABV produced in Europe can be sold in the UK as “alcohol free”, but British brewers brewing at the same strength must label their beer differently. This is discrimination and will create confusion for consumers.
“Whilst we have already seen significant growth in the low alcohol beer sector, the Government has failed to implement changes that would enable Britain’s brewers to further innovate and promote lower strength drinks to stimulate this growth further.
“A decision by the Australian Government to introduce tax reductions for ‘lighter’ beer has already led to growth of such beers to occupy 25% of the market there. Sadly then, this decision by the UK Government represents a missed opportunity to provide a similar incentive here and gives no encouragement to those seeking to moderate their alcohol consumption.
“There is plenty of evidence to show that moderate drinking brings health benefits, and beer, which is typically a low strength form of alcohol, is a great way to enjoy a well-earned drink whilst supporting your local pub.”
Mindful drinking movement Club Soda slammed the outcome of the consultation. Founder Laura Willoughby said: “The Government has announced that the descriptors won’t change but will become guidance enforced by trading standards. We believe the result makes how drinks can be described, or labelled, even more confusing than it was before. The decision was based on a poorly structured consultation which focused more heavily on what level ‘low alcohol’ should be set at rather than exploring what was alcohol-free.
“Making the levels of alcohol clear is important, of course, but we now have a confusing situation where what is described in the UK as alcohol-free (0.05%) puts us at odds with the rest of the world where 0.5% is considered trace alcohol and therefore alcohol-free, safe for drivers and pregnant women. This is the same as some food stuffs eaten in quantity such as orange juice or ginger beer which are not described as having any association with alcohol whatsoever.”