Surely most discerning drinkers would like to be able to choose ciders and perries which are made from 100% fresh apple or perry pear juice, and to avoid those which have been adulterated with additives. The trouble is, how can we tell when the ingredients are rarely listed on the containers? At present it is only a few supermarket own-brand ciders and one or two of the best small producers who list their ingredients or juice content. We think that real cider should have the juice content percentage proudly proclaimed and one way to acheive this might be if all alcoholic drinks were made to list their ingredients, just like all other foodstuffs.
The first stage of the campaign is to find out why the alcoholic drinks industry is exempt and how this might be changed.
There is a website called Write to Them which allows you to easily send off a letter to your MP, MEPs, MSPs,Welsh and London Assembly Members or local Councillors for free just by putting in your postcode and writing what you want to say. Andy Roberts decided to give it a go and sent off the following to his MP on 24th September 2005:
Dear Stephen Timms,
Concerning: FOOD INGREDIENTS LISTING - ALCOHOLIC DRINKS
I am concerned that alcoholic drinks, unlike all other foodstuffs don't seem to have the ingredients they contain listed on the packaging. This makes it difficult for consumers who wish to avoid particular additives such as sulphur dioxide, sacharrin etc or who wish to choose products which are made entirely from natural ingredients such as grapes or apples rather than concentrate, corn syrup or sugar.
I am hoping that you will agree with me that it can only be in the best interests of consumers to list the ingredients, and possibly for the producers as well.
Please could you tell me why the alcoholic drinks industry seems to be exempt from the food labelling regulations, and how this can be changed.
Two weeks later, writetothem.com wrote and asked me if I'd received a reply yet. I clicked on NO and saw this:
Unlike most other workers in the public sector, the performance of MPs is not measured and published. With your help, we'd like to fix this curious anomaly. Your feedback will allow us to publish performance tables of the responsiveness of all the politicians in the UK. The majority of MPs respond promptly and diligently to the needs and views of their constituents. They deserve credit and respect for their conscientiousness. Likewise, we're keen to expose the minority of MPs who don't seem to give a damn.
On 19th October, I tried another tack which was to raise the issue of contacting MPs on a local issues forum. Within a few hours I received an email from Stephen Timms office saying that he had not received my original mail, so I forwarded it and now he is going to write on my behalf to the Food Standards Agency, so we will see what they have to say.
Response from Food Standards Agency
FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY
From the Chair, Dame Deirdre Hutton CBE to: Stephen Timms MP House of Commons
Dear Stephen, Thankyou for your letter of 19th October enclosing one from your consituent Mr Roberts of Manor Park, London, regarding the labelling of alcoholic drinks.
Food labelling rules are agreed at EU level. Directive 2000/13/EC, which covers the labelling of foods, exempts alcoholic drinks of more than 1.2% alcohol by volume from the requirement to list ingredients on a label. The European Commission has announced a review of Directive 2000/13/EC , and the Government has already indicated to the Commission that they would like to see the labelling of alcoholic drinks addressed. A Commission discussion document is expected before the end of the year.
With particular reference to the labelling of allergens, your constituent may wish to be aware that, as from 25th November 2005, pre-packed foods, including alcoholic drinks, containing any one of 12 specific allergens ( including sulphur dioxide and sulphites at more than 10mg/kg or 10mg/litre ), must indicate their presence on the label. This will help consumers including those with allergies to avoid these substances.
Dame Deirdre Hutton.
125 Kingsway, London WC2B 6NH switchboard 020 7276 8000 tel: 020 7276 8010 fax 020 7276 8627