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Column: US alcohol companies are proposing nutrition labels for booze, should we follow suit?

US alcohol manufacturers might soon reveal calorie content and other nutritional information on bottles and cans, should Ireland do likewise? asks Molly Garboden.

Molly Garboden

US WINE, BEER and spirits manufacturers may soon have to disclose calorie content and other nutritional information on bottles and cans, if proposed legislation goes through.

The upside: increased health awareness (maybe?)

The downside: wait – WHAT? A rum and coke contains the same number of calories as a Big Mac? (or some fact equally alarming to American college girls).

Different priorities for manufacturers and consumers

What’s interesting about the proposed move is that drinks manufacturers and consumers alike are in favour, though for entirely different reasons.

According to ABC News, consumers like the idea because, you know, sometimes it’s nice to be marginally aware of what you’re guzzling into your gut and circulating through your arteries. Companies that produce light/low-calorie “beer”, meanwhile, hope the labels will target people trying to lose weight, boosting sales of their sorry excuses for brews as a result.

The main target for this marketing? A group that’s eluded beer companies in America since the dawn of, er, beer: middle-income white women.

With calorie-conscious beers readily available, there’s no need for this demographic, which the advertising industry would have you believe is in a perpetual state of dieting, to limit its booze intake to vodka tonics alone: beer companies can run wild with “healthy”, “refreshing” gimmicks aimed at broads who like beer (or would like to like beer, anyway).

Just think of it – a world full of piss-coloured fizzy lagers, infused with the likes of pomegranate-raspberry, lime cactus and orange-grapefruit flavours (please note: I’m not making these up for effect: see? (Side-note: do limes grow on cacti? Or is cactus a flavour now?))

But I digress.

How would Irish consumers react?

While the Americans hammer out details of the proposed legislation and associated commercial impact across the pond, one cannot help but wonder what the reaction to booze nutrition labels would be in Ireland.

To be fair, Irish drink manufacturers have been concerned about the health of consumers for decades: the slogan “Guinness is Good for You” first appeared in 1929. A simple message, aptly put: no nutrition label necessary.

But the iron deficiencies of our forefathers aside, Guinness has, amusingly, more recently been touted as a good choice of beer for people trying to lose weight. Last year, American Women’s Health magazine rated Guinness the “Best light beer for getting buzzed on a diet” (which seems like a pretty irresponsible thing for a supposedly health-conscious publication to promote. But hey, whatever gets you through your Pilates class, I guess).

The magazine explains: “Contrary to popular opinion, a dark color [sic] doesn’t necessarily indicate a high calorie count. And while Guinness has more than twice as many calories as the lowest-calorie beer on the market, it’s also much more filling. Plus, one 12-ounce serving delivers a buzz that’s nearly on par with one regular beer, making it a dieter’s best bet.”

There’s a lot wrong with that paragraph, but what really wouldn’t wash in Ireland is the logic that because something gets you drunk faster than other drinks, you’re likely to stop drinking it sooner. Where’s the fun in that?

Will the Irish ever ‘do’ light beer?

While the rest of the Women’s Health piece features the likes of something called Bud Light Platinum (you can change the colour of the bottle, lads, but that won’t improve the flavour), one can’t help but notice that Guinness is the only Irish brew on the list. This got me thinking, is there any kind of beer marketed as “light” that originated in Ireland?

My musings took me to the most reliable resource out there: Yahoo! Answers. An enterprising chap, JJ Johnson, mused the very same musing. The best answer by far (from an equally, if not more, enterprising chap): “The Irish dont do light beer. Now chug a guinness take a shot of Jameson and be a man”.

Even as a middle-income white woman, I have to say: fair play.

Boston-born and Brixton-based, Molly Garboden is a freelance journalist, solely for the purpose of having a press card that gets her free admission to museums in Paris.

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