Steve Magnall, chief executive of St Peter’s Brewery near Bungay, who was responding to a proposal submitted to an All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting on Alcohol Harm to group zero alcohol drinks with low alcohol ones under a ‘zero alcohol’ label.
St Peter’s produces three zero alcohol beers which contain less than 0.09% alcohol as part of its best-selling Without range.
Mr Magnall, who said it had taken time and money to create the Without brand, argued that the proposed labelling would be misleading for customers who would be buying beers that they believe to be zero alcohol, but which actually contain alcohol.
It was a particular problem for recovering alcoholics, those who can’t drink alcohol for medical reasons and young people who believe they are drinking an alcohol-free beer, he said.
“The current labelling is confusing and in some ways misrepresentative of the types of products available. However, we’ve put time effort and money into producing a zero alcohol range of beers so why should a 0.5% beer be branded as zero alcohol when it isn’t?” he said.
“We need the Government to make some decisions to define no and low alcohol drinks for the sake of the industry and for the consumer. Someone wishing not to drink alcohol doesn’t want a 0.5% ABV beer, that would be like feeding a vegetarian a tiny bit of thinly cut ham.
“The problem is that brewers find it much easier to produce drinkable low alcohol beers than no alcohol beers. In light of the growing interest in alcohol free products some British brewers are therefore pressing for approval to label low alcohol beers (ie 0.5% and below) as no alcohol.
“Having spent time and money producing a truly alcohol-free beer, this is misleading and unfair.
We agree that labelling needs to be clearer and more defined and the Government needs to ensure that imported products aren’t slipping through the labelling net, but there has to be clear guidelines that make it fair for the consumer, retailer and producer.”
Consumers should not be fed incorrect information “which could certainly be very dangerous for some who simply can’t drink alcohol for medical reasons”, he said.