The Department of Health and Social Care has published its formal response to the consultation on low-alcohol product labelling, confirming a previously widely-reported decision that there will be no changes to the descriptors for low- and no-alcohol products.
The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has described this as “bitterly disappointing”, saying the department had missed an opportunity to give consumers greater clarity.
BBPA chief executive, Brigid Simmonds, said: “Changing the current definition of alcohol-free beer from 0.05% ABV to 0.5% ABV — as we suggested during the consultation process — would have brought the UK in line with the rest of Europe and other global markets.
“This creates the perverse situation whereby beers at 0.5% ABV produced in Europe can be sold in the UK as alcohol free, but British brewers brewing at the same strength must label their beer differently. This is discrimination and will create confusion for consumers.
“Whilst we have already seen significant growth in the low-alcohol beer sector, the government has failed to implement changes that would enable Britain’s brewers to further innovate and promote lower-strength drinks to stimulate this growth further.”
She added: “A decision by the Australian government to introduce tax reductions for ‘lighter’ beer has already led to growth of such beers to occupy 25% of the market there.
“Sadly, then, this decision by the UK government represents a missed opportunity to provide a similar incentive here and gives no encouragement to those seeking to moderate their alcohol consumption.
“There is plenty of evidence to show that moderate drinking brings health benefits, and beer, which is typically a low-strength form of alcohol, is a great way to enjoy a well-earned drink whilst supporting your local pub.”
James Calder, head of public affairs and communications at the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), said: “Beer below 0.5% is often referred to as both low alcohol and alcohol free, so why have the department decided to keep confusing, incorrect and outdated descriptors? They are used interchangably, so why not change it?
“Innovation in low-alcohol beers may now be hampered because new producers are unwilling to enter the category for fear of falling foul.”