More than 70% of alcohol labels do not include the drinking guidelines that were updated more than three years ago, according to new research.
The Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA) examined labels on 424 products in supermarkets and a newsagent in locations across Scotland, Wales, London, and the south-east and north-east of England.
As well as missing out on drinking guidelines, the research also found more than half of labels (56%) included no nutritional information, 37% of labels only listed a container’s calorie content while just 7% showed full nutritional content.
Nearly a quarter (24%) displayed misleading, out-of-date health information, such as the old UK guidelines or those from other countries.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, AHA chairman, said: “Alcohol labelling in this country is woefully inadequate and not fit for purpose if we wish to build a healthier society.
“It is disappointing but telling that members of the Portman Group, the body purporting to promote ‘best practice’ on labelling of alcohol products, are the least likely to display basic health information.
“It is time that health labelling is required for all products.
“The public must be granted the power to make informed decisions about their health by having access to prominent health warnings and information on ingredients, nutrition and alcohol content at the point of purchase.
“The industry’s reluctance to include this information on their products suggests profits are being put ahead of people’s health.”
The research also described health information as “often illegible”, with the average height of text about alcohol measuring 2mm when 3.5mm is required to be easily readable.
Meanwhile it also suggests members of the Portman Group, a social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, were least likely (2%) to include the correct low-risk drinking guidelines.
However the group’s chief executive John Timothy told the PA news agency: “This report is utter nonsense, based on out-of-date information and the typical anti-alcohol ideology of the AHA who can’t stand the fact that the moderate majority can sensibly enjoy a drink and stick within the 14-unit guidance.
“Take just one of our Portman Group members, Heineken, who represents well over a quarter of the UK’s beer and cider market.
“They already carry full CMO guidance on over 60% of their products and they will have completed the process by the end of the year.
“Our members are leaders in the industry, ensuring that for over 30 years that the sector is responsible and in that time have seen significant declines in alcohol consumption, youth drinking, drink driving and alcohol related crime.”
According to Alcohol Focus Scotland, the law currently only requires labels to show the strength of alcohol (ABV) and the container’s volume – with more information required to be displayed on a pint of milk than on a bottle of wine.
Alison Douglas, the group’s chief executive, said: “Alcohol producers continue to show a complete disregard for our right to know what is in our drinks and what the risks associated with alcohol consumption are.
“Their ongoing failure to provide full and accurate information is simply unacceptable.
“We need reliable health information directly on bottles, cans and menus, where it can usefully inform our decisions.
“The public deserves better and industry has demonstrated that they won’t do this voluntarily.
“We have even seen new products come onto the market in recent months that don’t provide the chief medical officers’ low risk guidelines three years on.
“The UK Government has consistently failed to regulate.
“It is now time for Scottish Government to use its powers to set out labelling requirements for alcoholic products in law.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are committed to improved alcohol labelling so consumers have the information they need to make informed purchase decisions.
“The Alcohol Framework is clear that we expect producers to place the chief medical officer’s guideline of 14 units weekly on labels and cans and it is disappointing that only 29% of labels were found to be compliant.
“This new evidence provides us with important new data and we will consider its findings carefully.
“The Scottish Government is determined to reduce the harm caused by alcohol and we are considering if further measures might be necessary to ensure more producers make this information available on drinks containers.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We encourage all alcohol producers to consistently display the UK chief medical officer’s low-risk guidelines so that people can make informed choices about the alcohol they consume.
“Our world-leading obesity strategy recognises alcohol consumption contributes excess calorie intake in adults and we re committed to consult on introducing calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks.”