The beer industry has expressed disappointment over the Department of Health and Social Care's (DHSC) decision to retain current descriptors for low- and no-alcohol products, claiming it could hamper innovation in the category.
Following a two-month consultation with the public and the beverage industry, the DHSC decided that current labelling terms and their thresholds – ‘low alcohol’ for 1.2% abv or below, ‘alcohol free’ for 0.05% abv or below, ‘de-alcoholised for 0.5% abv or below – won’t change, but will now be offered as a guidance rather than legislation.
The British Beer & Pub Association and Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) believe the current threshold of alcohol-free beer should be changed from 0.05% abv to 0.5% abv to align the UK with the rest of Europe and other key global markets.
‘[The current regulations] create the perverse situation whereby beers at 0.5% abv produced in Europe can be sold in the UK as “alcohol free”, but British brewers brewing at the same strength must label their beer differently,’ said BBPA's chief executive Brigid Simmonds. ‘This is discrimination and will create confusion for consumers.’
SIBA's James Calder expressed concern that the decision could hamper innovation and put off new producers from entering the category.
‘Given low-alcohol beer producers are leading innovation in the category (and producing some really, really nice beers at 0.5% abv and below), we thought that the time was right to change the descriptors to give consumers clarity and to reflect how the words are actually used,' added SIBA's James Calder.
John Timothy, chief executive of responsible drinking association Portman Group, supported Calder's view.
‘[Low- and no-abv] products have an important role to play in helping people to moderate their drinking,’ he said. ‘Failure to simplify descriptors or bring the UK into line with the rest of Europe risks undermining the investment that producers are making in the development of new and exciting low and no products.’
The DHSC admitted that there may be a 'commercial disadvantage to UK brewers' resulting from its decision, but defended its decision, saying that 'defining any drink with alcohol of 0.5% abv or less in it as non-alcoholic could mislead pregnant women into drinking alcohol, affect people’s judgement, inadvertently encourage drink driving and send the wrong message to people in alcohol recovery'.