How many Americans read the calorie label on their soda can, or the ingredient label on their food products? What if you found out that those labels were not trustworthy? A government agency recently found that many alcohol manufacturers are mislabeling alcohol content.
In the United States certain information is required to appear on alcoholic beverage labels. According to the Department of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) an alcohol label must print the brand name and address (or the address of the importer), the class designation (ale, beer, gin, rum, vodka, etc.), the net contents (how many fluid ounces) and the alcoholic content must be clearly seen.
Alcohol content is measured as a percentage of alcohol by volume. When someone refers to liquor as having a certain proof, in the U.S. that means twice the percentage of alcohol by volume. The government does not require alcohol manufacturers to provide proof on the label.
As many as 30 percent of liquor labels are not giving you accurate information. A recent TTB report stated that out of 668 randomly selected bottles, including 154 wines, 239 malt liquors and 275 distilled spirits, 190 were non-compliant: 80 of the offenders were distilled spirits, 73 were malt beverages and 37 were wines. Most of the issues had to do with alcohol content not matching labels. Since wrongly labeled alcohol will also be wrongly taxed this becomes a fiscal issue.
Just 15 of the non-compliant liquors (all distilled spirits) contained less alcohol than the label stated, with 50 of the products containing more alcohol than the label claimed. Meaning that people could make some very unwise decisions, such as driving, because they don’t really know how much alcohol they’ve had.
The TTB says that it recognizes a problem among some distillers in gauging their product accurately. The group says that it plans to create educational tools that will help distillers employ scientific methods for gauging alcohol content. The TTB report does not directly state any belief that alcohol is intentionally mislabeled for purpose of tax evasion.
But the fact that it is happening is pretty surprising, and it’s more than a fiscal issue – it’s a safety and health issue, too. The TTB’s own site says that their regulations are there “to prevent deception of the consumer and provide them with adequate information.” Thanks to yearly sampling discrepancies are discovered. Let’s see if the educational tools for gauging alcohol content improve things before the next sampling. Meanwhile, drinkers beware.