Background: Consumer and public health organizations have called for better labelling on alcoholic drinks. However, there is a lack of consensus about the best elements to include. This review summarizes alcohol labelling policy worldwide and examines available evidence to support enhanced labelling.
Methods: A literature review was carried out in June-July 2012 on Scopus using the key word 'alcohol' combined with 'allergens', 'labels', 'nutrition information', 'ingredients', 'consumer information' and/or 'warning'. Articles discussing advertising and promotion of alcohol were excluded. A search through Google and the System for Grey Literature in Europe (SIGLE) identified additional sources on alcohol labelling policies, mainly from governmental and organizational websites.
Results: Five elements were identified as potentially useful to consumers: (i) a list of ingredients, (ii) nutritional information, (iii) serving size and servings per container, (iv) a definition of 'moderate' intake and (v) a health warning. Alcohol labelling policy with regard to these aspects is quite rudimentary in most countries, with few requiring a list of ingredients or health warnings, and none requiring basic nutritional information. Only one country (Australia) requires serving size and servings per container to be displayed. Our study suggests that there are both potential advantages and disadvantages to providing consumers with more information about alcohol products.
Conclusions: Current evidence seems to support prompt inclusion of a list of ingredients, nutritional information (usually only kcal) and health warnings on labels. Standard drink and serving size is useful only when combined with other health education efforts. A definition of 'moderate intake' and recommended drinking guidelines are best suited to other contexts.