A couple years ago, it was "Standard Drink" labeling on alcoholic beverages. The public interest story was that people didn't know how much alcohol was really in the stuff they were buying and so need the standard drink labeling to help them out. So the "Baptists" wanted labels on every bottle of booze saying how many units of 10 grams of alcohol it contained.*
That's the public interest veneer. When you recognize that larger producers can spread fixed labeling costs over more units and that beverages from overseas often don't have "standard drink" labeling, the bootlegger story is more obvious.** Standard drink labeling is a way of imposing costs on smaller producers (to the benefit of larger producers) and of imposing a non-tariff barrier against imported drinks. I remember the craft beer importer on Papanui Road who manually had to print off standard drink labels to paste, one by one, to bottles of niche craft beers he brought in from overseas. He went out of business before the earthquakes, though likely because the New World across the street improved its craft beer offerings rather than because of the labeling regs.
Today's version: calorie counts. An AUT nutrition prof wants mandatory
The least intrusive form of the regulation would simply have "calories from alcohol" labeling. That's a straight function of the number of standard drinks already on the label. Going beyond that to get accurate calorie counts whenever a small producer decides to brew an odd milk stout or add pineapple lumps to the brew and you're again working to impose fixed costs on small niche brewers and to impose a non-tariff barrier on imports.
If the government is determined to cave in to the healthists on this one, here's how to make it least harmful:
- Exempt small-batch products;
- Exempt imports;
- Require vendors selling exempt products to put up a notice somewhere saying "The alcohol in one standard drink provides 290 kilojoules."
* And, predictably, those who care about value for money find it easier to divide price by number of standard drinks than to run the more complicated "price divided by (volume times % alcohol).
** Worse, the UK uses an 8 gram (10mL) standard drink size. So a bottle of imported Guinness will have the wrong number of standard drinks. For the confusing morass of international alcohol labeling requirements, read this. Imagine setting up as a small producer and thinking about exporting. What kind of labels are you going to have to draw to be able to meet the requirements across a broad enough set of countries? What happens if you have a cancelled export order that you want to ship to another country instead but you'd put on the wrong set of labels?