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Bottle, can labels could lead to beer strength wars.

Bottle, can labels could lead to beer strength wars

The Washington Liquor Control Board last week put off a decision on adopting a regulation allowing beer drinkers to see how much "bounce per ounce" they're getting in their favorite brew.

The proposal before the board would require labels on brews with four percent or more alcohol, by weight.

The board decided, however, to hold an additional public hearing so it could consider a proposed amendment that would require labeling of all beers, regardless of alcoholic content.

Opponents of the labeling regulation say they fear it would encourage drinking rather than serve as an education tool.

The board came up with the idea to give consumers more information, but marketing is also a concern in the board's decision making, board spokesman Carter Mitchell said.

"If it's meant to educate and for the benefit of the consumer, then there's a plus," Mitchell said. "If it is meant to encourage percentage shopping and giving more bounce per ounce, a bigger bang for the buck, that's a concern."

Most beers are less than four percent alcohol. Most ales, stouts and malt liquors are more than four percent.

At a hearing March 7, an Anheuser-Busch, Inc. representative told the board the labeling rule would cause production problems. Others, including Rainier Brewing Co. of Seattle and some alcohol-treatment professionals, say all brews should list alcohol content, regardless of level.

"Our concern is that it's most confusing at the four percent and under range. People drink light beer and they're not sure if it's light in color, fewer calories or lower alcohol," said Brenda Babcock, a spokeswoman for Rainier Brewing, the largest brewery in the state.

"We're required to have a health warning, but not allowed to tell consumers what they're actually drinking," she said.

Labeling would help people who are looking for low-alcohol drinks, one of the faster-growing segments of the, she said.

Rainier beer varies in alcohol content for the different varieties--light, dry or ale--from 3.2 percent at the lowest to just under six percent for the ale, she said.

There are plenty of reasons not to put alcohol content on beer bottles and cans, said Anheuser-Busch lobbyist Bill Fritz.

Requiring Washington labels on beer that is produced in California would increase costs for Budweiser and thus the price paid by consumers, he said. Labels could also confuse consumers or mislead them about safe levels of consumption. It could also lead to a "strength war" of competing brands, he said.

Budweiser and most popular beers are between three and four percent alcohol. LA, low-alcohol product, is doing very poorly in the market, he said.

Labels would be less of a problem for Rainier, which does most of its business in Washington.

"We don't have a hidden agenda. We simply believe this is the most responsible position, and consumers deserve to know how much alcohol they are consuming," Rainier Brewing President Bruce Vaughan said in a statement.

Rainier's position puts it on the side of safety and liquor control groups.

"We're going to request labels on all beer. We're holding people accountable for the choices they make," said Donna Carr of the Chemical Dependency Professional Association of Washington State.

"I do a lot of assessments for people who have been stopped for DWI and have been genuinely surprised at the amount of alcohol. One thing we hear is, `Gee, I only had a few beers.'

"People have a right to know how much alcohol is in that beer. It would help dispel myths that beer is harmless," Carr said.


A recent Associated Press story covering North Dakota farmers' lawsuits brought against Anheuser-Busch, Inc., which appeared in the April 9, 1990 Modern Brewery Age Tabloid incorrectly stated that "a very small percentage of the purchased [barley] seed was certified." In fact, only a very small percentage of the seed was not certified, and the lot was subsequently bulk certified, according to Raymond Goff, executive vice president, Anheuser-Busch Cos., Inc..

"We regret any inconvenience that this technical error may have caused," Goff said. "Our goal is to ensure that we sell and purchase only the highest quality seed and to be as fair as possible to growers."
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Title Annotation:alcohol content labeling regulation
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Apr 23, 1990
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