UK – The UK Brewers’ association, The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), has called on the government to raise the limit on alcohol-free labelling to 0.5 percent ABV amid huge costs incurred in achieving the set maximum. 

Under the current regulation, breweries can only label beer as ‘no alcohol’ or ‘alcohol-free’ if it contains an ABV not exceeding 0.05 percent. 

For products labelled ‘low alcohol,’ the stipulated ABV range must not exceed 1.2 percent. 

According to a statement from the association, the current regulations have been termed as costly to achieve, and even more expensive for the small independent breweries seeking to enter the low-and-no alcohol market. 

“For small independent breweries, NoLo is a fledgling sector, and our members are increasingly looking to add new innovative low alcohol beers to their range but are hindered by confusing labelling guidance and the barriers to accessing the market,” said Andy Slee, SIBA CEO. 

In September this year, the UK government proposed to increase the ABV threshold for the low/no alcohol drink category in a move to make alcohol-free products more widely available. 

The move seeks to increase the availability of alcohol-free products to provide consumers with what the government termed as more health-conscious options while removing red tape for producers. 

Public health minister Neil O’Brien said the government is keen to support the growth of the low/no industry, adding: “Liberalizing labelling guidelines could help people make more informed choices about the drinks they buy.” 

In other countries such as Belgium, Portugal, Germany, and the US, the threshold for alcohol-free drinks sits at 0.5 percent. 

If the amendment to the alcohol-free threshold does not go ahead, Rob Fink, founder of Big Drop, warned that the “innovative brewers in the UK who have worked so hard to develop this category will, frankly, likely disappear, leaving the sector dominated by global brewers selling beer which has had the alcohol stripped out.” 

Even though the change of labelling is one of the interventions to facilitating the growth of the industry, Dr. Richard Piper, Chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, termed the change insufficient, stating that the existing labelling is already confusing. 

“One of the key barriers to the take-up of these drinks is consumer confusion about labelling, particularly the inconsistent use of the descriptors ‘zero’, ‘alcohol-free’, ‘non-alcoholic’, and ‘dealcoholized’,” he said. 

Piper called for better-regulated marketing, action on “super-cheap, super-strong supermarket alcohol,” and clearer labelling.