Health organizations are calling for the removal of “low carb” and “low sugar” labels on alcoholic beverages, stating that they are misleading and should not have been permitted.
The review of sugar claims on alcohol labels, initiated by health ministers due to concerns about their clarity, is now accepting submissions by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
The Cancer Council has submitted a review to FSANZ, which was viewed by Guardian Australia. In the submission, they express strong disagreement with FSANZ’s allowance of nutrition claims related to carbohydrates and sugars on alcoholic beverages.
The statement asserts that all alcoholic drinks heighten the likelihood of developing cancer, regardless of their sugar or carbohydrate levels.
Promoting alcohol products with the suggestion that they are healthier is not allowed, except for accurately labeling zero- or low-alcohol products.
The Cancer Council’s submission was created in collaboration with various health organizations, such as the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Evaluation, Alcohol Change Australia, the Public Health Association of Australia, Dieticians Australia, and The George Institute.
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According to Alcohol Change Australia, 15 individuals in Australia lose their lives every day due to alcohol-related harm. They also stated that alcohol consumption is directly connected to over 200 illnesses and ailments, including seven types of cancer.
According to the most recent National Drug Strategy Household Survey, there has been an increase in the number of individuals cutting back on or quitting alcohol consumption. However, there has not been a significant shift in the percentage of people drinking at high-risk levels, as stated in the submission.
Hannah Pierce, the executive officer of Alcohol Change Australia, stated that terms such as “low carb” or “low sugar” are not reliable sources of nutritional information, but rather marketing tactics.
“Australians should have access to essential information, such as the quantity of standard drinks and the total energy content of an alcoholic product.”
According to a research conducted by Cancer Council Victoria and LiveLighter, the majority of low-carb beers have similar amounts of carbohydrates and kilojoules as regular beer. However, the study revealed that the discrepancy in kilojoules is not substantial enough to prevent weight gain.
According to public health nutritionist Dr. Rosemary Stanton, it is crucial that alcoholic beverages display their total kilojoule content and this should be a mandatory requirement. She also supports the removal of “low carb” labels.
Stanton explained that the issue with alcohol lies not in its carbohydrates or sugar, which are simply a type of carbohydrate, but rather in its alcohol content.
One gram of alcohol has 29 kilojoules, equivalent to seven calories, and one gram of carbohydrates or sugars contains 17 kilojoules, equal to four calories.
“The alcohol industry opposes any proposals for label modifications based on health concerns, such as including the total kilojoules, citing the high cost of label changes,” Stanton stated. “However, they readily advertise their products as low carb or low sugar.”
I reached out to the Alcohol Beverages Australia industry group on behalf of Guardian Australia to request a statement.
In August, the George Institute for Global Health carried out a survey of 1,000 adults nationwide on behalf of Alcohol Change Australia. The survey asked participants to evaluate the healthiness of various alcoholic products and to consider the impact of low carb and low sugar messaging on their alcohol consumption.
The percentage of individuals who recognized that alcohol can be harmful decreased from 48% to 40% after a low carb statement was included, and further decreased to 37% with the addition of a low sugar claim. Additionally, one out of every five participants in the survey stated that they would consume more of an alcoholic beverage if it had a low sugar label.
According to Clare Hughes, who chairs the Cancer Council’s alcohol committee, claims about the nutritional content of carbohydrates and sugars should not be allowed on alcohol products. This is necessary to prevent the Australian population from receiving misinformation.
According to a representative from FSANZ, the review of labelling has received 82 submissions. These submissions are anticipated to be released to the public at a later time this year.
The current Code allows for voluntary claims about the nutritional content of carbohydrates on alcoholic drinks. However, there was confusion about whether claims about sugar, which is a type of carbohydrate, were also allowed.
In the future, FSANZ plans to hold specific discussions with important groups such as public health and consumer organizations, governments, and industry to gather information for its final evaluation.
The board’s determination, anticipated in 2024, will be communicated to the ministers in charge of food regulations. They will have the option to approve the standard as a law or request a reassessment.