Latest health guidance missing from alcohol labels


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Media captionClare Hutton almost died from drinking too much alcohol; her husband was told she would have had 10 days left to live

The alcohol industry has not updated health information labelling three years after health experts issued new guidelines, the BBC has found.

In 2016, the UK’s chief medical officers recommended men and women drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

But a BBC Panorama investigation found just 14 of 100 alcoholic products carried that information.

The alcohol industry said it had until September 2019 to make the change.

Health advice on how much adults could safely drink in a week was cut significantly in 2016, from 28 units a week for men and 21 for women, to 14 for both.

But there is no mandatory regulation governing what health information the alcohol industry puts on its products.

Health professionals and campaign groups say there should be tougher regulation.

Katharine Severi, from the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: “We believe consumers should have information about the chief medical officers’ low risk drinking guidelines.

“It’s not acceptable to be displaying the old guidance on products because they could inadvertently be putting consumers at greater risk.

“I think this self-regulatory system is failing.”

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‘I had no idea. I just drank’

As a busy working mum, Clare Hutton used to like a drink at the end of the day to unwind.

“It would be the ‘wine o’clock time’. I was making the kids’ tea, glass of wine, on to my third glass of wine at bath time for the boys, then they’re in bed, and then we sit down for another glass.”

It was only when her liver failed that Clare, then 39, realised the problem.

“I was bloated up, two days later I just couldn’t move with the pain. We went to A&E. I was being wheeled up the corridor, and all I saw was the liver unit. It was at that point I knew. The doctors told my husband I would have had 10 days left.

“If it said on the box, and if it mentioned the liver and what it was doing to my body, I would have thought twice.

“I had no idea, I just drank.”

Clare says she wants the industry to introduce clearer labelling: “You need to put it out there because it will be saving lives. It will be saving people not having to give their house up, not having to give their children up.”

Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, a liver specialist at the Royal Liverpool Hospital added: “I think the government has to wave the stick and accept the fact that industry can’t give unbiased advice on this topic.”

The Department of Health says it is working with the industry to implement the guidance.

“It is important we work closely with the alcohol industry in order to hold them to account,” it said.

Image caption The Portman Group’s John Timothy says the industry’s “grace period” ends in September

And John Timothy, chief executive of alcohol industry watchdog The Portman Group, said: “When the updated guidance came out, the industry was given a period of grace to change labels, that period of grace ends in September this year.

“There are ongoing discussions amongst my members about how they communicate that risk.”

Why my ‘niggle’ was turned into a Panorama programme

By Adrian Chiles, TV and radio presenter

Since I blundered into making a TV programme outing myself as a far too heavy drinker, I’ve become fascinated by the the whole industry.

And a bit of a niggle I had with it has turned into a Panorama programme.

My question is simple: why isn’t the chief medical officers’ health advice on safe drinking – stay within 14 units a week – on every bottle, can and beer pump?

I still drink, probably a bit too much, and I actually think it’s no-one’s business but the drinker’s how much they put away.

But they do deserve the correct information, and at the moment they’re generally not getting it.

The alcohol industry is allowed to regulate itself so it’s up to the producers themselves to label their products clearly and accurately. It would seem this isn’t happening.

BBC Panorama: Britain’s Drink Problem is on BBC One at 20.30 on Monday 10 June and then available on the BBC iPlayer.

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