Peter Dowd MP rises to the units drink challenge

During Labour’s Autumn Conference, Peter Dowd MP rose to the challenge of guessing how many units of alcohol a standard drink has. With some help from well-designed labels and staff from the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), the MP for Bootle identified the amount of units in a glass of wine.

Mr Dowd then learned that 80% of people cannot correctly identify the Chief Medical Officers’ (CMOs) low-risk drinking guidelines and only 1 in 10 people are aware of the link between alcohol and cancer. In addition, 40% of women in the UK continue to drink during pregnancy.

International evidence suggests that clear labelling of alcohol containers can increase awareness of health messages and help consumers to make healthier choices. However, this relies on labels being clearly legible and understandable.

A recent audit of 320 alcohol labels across the UK found that this is not the case: Not a single product warned of specific health risks, and less than 10% referred to the current 14-unit CMOs’ guidelines. Whilst pregnancy warnings were voluntarily displayed on the majority of products, many of them were small and difficult to see.

The AHA is campaigning for all alcohol labels to be required to include the following information:

  • the CMOs’ low risk weekly guidelines of 14 units;
  • a prominent, evidence-based health warning developed by independent experts;
  • the units provided in a typical serving and the whole container; and
  • over 18, no drinking during pregnancy and no drinking and driving warnings.

Peter Dowd MP said “Playing the game, it was quite difficult to guess the correct number of alcohol units in a drink without a proper label. Yet, currently, most alcohol labels don’t give us the information; we get to know more about the contents of a pint of milk than of a bottle of beer that is linked to over 200 disease and injury conditions. That doesn’t seem right, and I support the AHA’s call for detailed information to be required on all labels.”

Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the AHA, commented “As consumers, we have a right to know what is in our drinks. It is shocking that awareness of the cancer risk of alcohol is still so low. Labels are an important source of information, but the current self-regulated system is failing to give consumers the information they are entitled to. We urgently need to introduce statutory requirements on what needs to be displayed on alcohol labels.”

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