Love to party and drink? Be safe, don’t drink and drive! From April 1, all liquor bottles are set to show statutory health warning on their labels. The prominently featured statutory warning serves as a grim reminder to those who consume alcohol that it is harmful for health. While many consumers are likely to ignore the warnings as cumbersome, it is important to know exactly how India’s current food regulations play a vital role in safeguarding a consumer’s health.
For instance, how many consumers of alcohol are aware that the water used for diluting the bottling strength of an alcoholic beverage as per the Indian Standards for Drinking Water is amended from time to time? This is to ensure that the water itself is safe and of a certain quality before added to an alcoholic beverage bottle.
Most consumers would not even be aware that the quality parameters and statutory requirements for the content inside alcoholic beverages are tightly set for every type of liquor that is further classified. We can take a look at some examples to understand this better.
Take the example of wine for which the food regulator prescribes the quality requirement based on the type of wine a person consumes such as grape wine, red wine, white wine, dry wine, medium dry wine, medium sweet wine and so on.
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Another example is how wines are also categorized on the basis of the carbon dioxide content such as semi-sparkling or crackling, Brut, extra dry, semi-dry and dry.
Fruit wine, for example, is categorised separately from the wines mentioned above. Wondering why? The rationale is that a fruit wine is produced from a fruit other than grapes and undergoes the normal alcoholic fermentation of the ripe fruit juice that is used. Therefore, fruit wines such as perry is known to be produced from pears.
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In February 2019, the 13th meeting of the Scientific Panel on Water and Beverages made some notable recommendations such as increasing the font size of the statutory warning on all alcoholic beverages that comes in 200 ml pack to be not less than 1.5 mm and those more than 200 ml should have font that should not be less than 3 mm.
Last year, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had issued a notification to this effect dated March 19, 2018. The FSSAI notification had directed that all manufacturers of alcoholic beverages to ensure that labels showcase the following warning prominently and this has to be implemented strictly within a year’s time. The labels read as follows: “Consumption of alcohol is injurious to health”; and “Be safe. Don’t drink and drive”.
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According to these food regulations, alcoholic beverages fall within the purview of the Food Safety Act. However, there are no labelling regulations under the Act. The norm was that manufacturers would follow the excise laws and the standards that are set by the Bureau of Indian standards.
However, a new regulation called the Food Safety and Standards Regulation came into effect in 2018. This regulation covers beverages such as gin, rum, vodka, whisky, brandy, country liquor, wines, beer among others.
Therefore, manufacturers of alcoholic beverages have been directed to ensure the labels also contain a clear declaration pertaining to the alcohol content in it, allergen warning and there can be no health claims and no nutritional data to feature on it.
A restriction is also placed on using words such as ‘non-intoxicant’ on the label of an alcoholic beverage that contains more than 0.5 per cent alcohol in terms of its volume.
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Food regulations in India are often touted as a pain point among consumers but this can be attributed to the fact that few Indian consumers are aware about the exact harmful effects of the content inside alcoholic beverages.
These regulations will have to be complied with from April 1, 2019.