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Liquor labels found to understate alcohol content

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Nearly 30 percent of alcoholic beverages were found to have inaccurate labels, putting consumers at risk, according to a March 10 survey compiled by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. While most beverage alcohol containers complied with U.S. label regulations, on many the booze contained more alcohol than stated and above regulatory tolerances.

The TTB’s Alcohol Beverage Sampling Program (ABSP) is conducted at random every year using products available in the U.S. The 2013 survey sampled 275 distilled spirits, 239 malt beverages and 154 wines. A total of 190 products across all type were non-compliant, 80 of which were distilled spirits. The TTB found 15 instances of spirits containing less alcohol than claimed on the label.

According to bartending trade publication, The Spirits Business, “Not only do such products avoid paying higher rates of excise tax, they pose a threat to consumers who are unaware of how much alcohol they are drinking.” The TTB noted, “The results of our sampling program over the past few years indicate that proofing and gauging of distilled spirits is a problem area for some industry members.”

TTB states it will raise awareness of the issue and develop educational tools to assist distillers “with their gauging skills” using standardized scientific methods.

The mislabeling puts consumers at risk in misleading the drinker about the consequences, health and legal. When a publication suggests that a glass of wine a day may be “safe” (See related article When it comes to cancer, no amount is safe) a glass of wine at 12 percent alcohol is not the same as one at 20 percent. For a person with risk factors for the disease of alcoholism, abstinence is the only sure prevention and maintenance of the disease, but for social drinkers, they may unknowingly be drinking a hazardous amount and a lot more than they intended. Also, when motorists order a mixed drink they think is 80 proof (40 percent) and it is really 100 proof, it could mislead them to believe they would be below the legal threshold for driving, 0.08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Scientific studies warn, however, that impaired driving begins at a much lower BAC level.

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