Page last updated at 09:31 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010

Progress on alcohol labelling 'disappointing'

silhouette of man drinking wine
Excessive drinking kills thousands every year

The alcohol industry is failing to comply with a voluntary agreement to place health warnings on alcoholic drinks, says the government.

Just 15% of drinks provide enough information about units and health risks, a report found.

England's Department of Health says it will consider mandatory labelling if voluntary agreements fail.

Public Health Minister Gillian Merron said progress was "very disappointing" despite efforts from some brands.

She added: "Whilst there should be no need to bring in legislation when the industry can clearly sort it out themselves, we will not hesitate to act decisively if industry does not deliver.

"I expect to see much more leadership from more of the major producers.

"We know that too many are drinking at harmful levels and producers should play their part in helping to stem this tide by ensuring we all have access to clear and consistent health information on labels."

Health warnings have been on the side of cigarette packets for years and no-one takes any notice
PP, Sussex

The Scottish Government, along with the other devolved administrations, has launched a similar consultation on alcohol labelling.

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said that if compliance with the existing voluntary code did not improve, then mandatory labelling would be a strong option.

Voluntary code

The voluntary agreement between the government and the drinks industry was forged in 2007.

It said the majority of alcoholic drink labels should include:

• The number of units the drink contained

• Daily safe drinking limits

• The website address for the Drinkaware Trust

• A warning to pregnant women

• A message about responsible drinking.

In 2008, only 6% of labels met the standards. This has risen to 15%, with a projection of 19% for 2010.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "The alcohol industry agreed to start using these labels yet three years later they still haven't complied.

"This makes a mockery of their claims to be socially responsible and we now have to consider the case for mandatory warnings.

"It's clear that voluntary agreements with large sections of the alcohol industry aren't worth the paper they are written on."

The supermarket Tesco said it had rolled out the recommended labelling on almost 75% of its own-label drinks - and is working with its suppliers to encourage them to adopt the labelling.

Drinks manufacturer Diageo said it was committed to re-labelling its drinks brands in the UK by December 2012.

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