The UK government kept quiet for 22 months about the “grace period” it gave alcohol suppliers to omit the official safety guidelines, Alcohol Companion has discovered.
The department agreed the alcohol industry could omit the information from labels until September 1st this year in March 2017, only formally telling the public of the deal in January this year.
The deal was struck under Jeremy Hunt (left), who was thwarted in a bid to become prime minister this week. Hunt handed over the health department reigns to fellow would-be leader Matt Hancock (right) last summer.
The silence meant even the most informed onlookers were taken-aback when Alcohol Companion revealed the alcohol industry had suddenly dropped the guidelines from its voluntary code in October 2017.
The grace period first became a matter of public record in January thanks to a speech to parliament by Steven Brine (below), who started as a junior minister three months after the little-known pact.
The health department says an eagle-eyed observer might have inferred the industry had been offered the delay in labelling from a Food Standards Agency update issued in September 2017.
It also says it issued guidance on how to communicate the low-risk guidelines at the same time as it quietly agreed the alcohol industry could have 30 months more omitting them.
“We are starting to see more products with labels that reflect the new guidelines and the department will continue to work with industry to implement the guidance,” the department said.
Only around 14% of alcoholic drinks labels tell consumers of the 14 UK unit (140ml) a week guideline, according to a BBC Panorama investigation into the issue last month.
The guideline was first introduced in January 2016. As few as one-in-six UK consumers know it. ■