Posts Tagged ‘political’
AJ’s next target is MGD beer. “Probably the most blatantly illegal advertisement came in early 2009, when a new beer called MGD 64 (boasting just 64 calories) sponsored an online fitness program…” With a claim like that it would be nice to know what makes it “illegal,” if not the imagery of “a thin, toned brunette in a party dress, smiling brightly as she showed off the beer-sponsored body that users could obtain if they joined.” With little analysis or evidence, AJ summarily concludes that the marketing is “patently false and misleading.” By contrast, in my opinion, if you are going to strip most of the calories and body away from a beer, down to a puny 64 calories, you darned well have the right to market it as only 64 calories (especially when the same amount of milk, apple juice or regular beer would have 2-3 times as many calories).
The “Industry Watchdog” lays much of the blame for this sorry state of affairs at the feet of the industry’s failure to properly regulate itself: “Finally, the most important reason for the breakdown in regulatory oversight is the continuing charade of voluntary self-regulation.” AJ says the industry has “created a system of codes, largely designed to convince policymakers they do not need to intervene, and that the industry can monitor itself” and the system is not working. But AJ would be no happier to have TTB calling the shots. AJ claims that “The government officials at TTB have little to no expertise in health. A better choice might be the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” AJ provides not a scintilla of evidence that FDA would or could do any kind of a better job with a single one of the issues noted above. FDA might be far more likely to allow vitamins in vodka and on the label. FDA does not police the term natural more strictly compared to TTB. FDA would not be likely to restrict the use of organic claims or disallow MGD from marketing itself as low in calories.
In view of the weak examples set out by the report, and with few if any meaningful health claims getting past TTB, it is a wonder to behold what more rigorous enforcement would look like. Should the government ban imagery associated with sound, ripe fruits (because they are “wholesome” and booze is not)? Should Baileys be stripped of all rights to mention dairy cream (because it’s commonly associated with healthfulness)?
Last but not least, AJ sets its sights on the First Amendment. AJ claims:
Another charade in which the industry engages to keep regulators at bay is to argue that the free speech clause under the First Amendment protects companies from any government regulation of advertising. This makes for good political posturing, but from a legal standpoint, it’s simply not true. The First Amendment does not protect deceptive advertising. The government can and should stop such practices.
This would be damnable if it were true. Is anyone arguing the First Amendment protects companies from all advertising regulations? The part that’s simply not true is to suggest that a meaningful number of alcohol beverage companies make this claim. I am not aware of any alcohol beverage company above a handful of employees that has or would make an extravagant claim of this sort. Most of them favor and support a wide variety of sensible controls on labeling and advertising. To put things in perspective, Dr. David J. Hanson has a detailed overview of AJ and Marin (and its funding, methods and history) here. He explains that it’s nothing new for the group to “[crusade] against First Amendment constitutional free speech rights” in pursuit of its prohibitionist agenda.
It’s not like I left out the better examples, or the better arguments. With even the protein-infused vodka (Devotion), where is the actual, documented harm, as opposed to some vague possibility? I would have liked to find more in this report with which I could agree. I do agree with the premise that alcohol beverages still, after all these years, can raise difficult societal and public health issues, and need to be regulated with seriousness and care. But because the AJ report relies so much on exaggeration, distortion and weak examples, for me the report succeeds mostly in showing there is not a substantial problem related to health claims by alcohol beverage companies.
AJ Report on Health Claims
Back in June, Alcohol Justice issued a report entitled “Questionable Health Claims by Alcohol Companies.” I was pretty excited to read this report, because we study such matters closely. Every few weeks I get an exuberant report of a big health claim, on another alcohol beverage product — but it almost always turns out to be a false alarm.
Also, I wanted to give AJ (formerly known as The Marin Institute) a fair chance to persuade me that a lot of companies do in fact go over “the line.” Even though I freely admit that we derive most of our revenue from alcohol beverage companies, I like to think we are fair and open-minded enough to agree with a strong and well-made point.
The report tends to say a large number of alcohol beverage companies are running roughshod over consumers, with phony health claims, and with the rules either insufficient or largely ignored. AJ suggests the rules are “constantly being violated.”
These advertising practices are legally tenuous, morally unsound, and potentially dangerous. … Using health messages to sell products that can cause such widespread harm is not only unethical, it’s illegal, and yet the regulatory system has failed miserably to protect the American public. … This report examines this disturbing trend to promote alcohol as a health and fitness product…
I was eager to see the evidence at long last. I have seen many a company try and fail, to find a way to meekly suggest that their product might have some positive attributes beyond taste. I recall when a few wine labels tried but failed to suggest, after much litigation, that it might not be a bad idea to check with your doctor about the health effects of wine. Mind you, there was no reference to health benefits. I was eager to see the examples of wine labels promoting heart health; I was eager to see the various digestif labels promoting longevity and improved digestive function; I was eager to see the various anti-oxidant labels that had so stubbornly evaded my past inquisitions.
Instead, AJ trotted out Lotus “Vitamin Infused” Vodka. It sounds dramatic, with all the talk of vitamins and vodka.
[T]he first fortified – or “enhanced” – vodka was introduced in 2007. Lotus White is infused with vitamins B3, B6, B9, and B12. According to the company’s CEO, the vitamins are meant to curb or eradicate hangovers. In an interview, he said the vodka “could actually be good for you.” … Despite the dubious nature of [the] health claims, the marketing techniques seem to be working. Lotus vodka’s sales increased 50 percent in 2009…
AJ fails to note that it never mentioned vitamins on the label, and so far as I know, it hasn’t been sold in many years. It never sold more than a few thousand bottles per year, worldwide. The fading Lotus website shows a total of five web retailers; none of them carry this anymore or have it in stock.
If this is the best AJ can do, with thousands of new alcohol beverage products every year, and over 130,000 label approvals per year, it is tough to imagine a more ringing endorsement for the status quo.
AJ next rails against the pernicious use of the term “natural” on various alcohol beverages.
In 2008, three of the five top-selling vodka companies in the U.S. had ad campaigns with fruit and positioned their products as fresh or all natural: Absolut (2nd), Skyy (4th), and Stoli (5th). At least one other spirit, Finlandia vodka, also took advantage of the all-natural designation. … Skyy’s website, however, confirms that no actual fruit is used in the process. Because [TTB] has not defined the words “infusion” or “all-natural,” the company uses them freely.
I am having trouble comprehending whether AJ would be more happy if the same products were loaded up with artificial flavors instead. As Herman Cain might say, AJ is “incorrect” in saying TTB does not define terms like natural and all-natural. TTB has rigorous standards for terms such as these. TTB tests all flavors in all alcohol beverages — whether made within or without the US — to verify that they are natural. It is far from a rubber stamp regime. TTB maintains a laboratory staffed with more than a few specialized beverage and non-beverage chemists, to verify the assertions of the many specialized and sophisticated flavor companies that seek flavor approvals. In many instances, far from being a marketing gimmick, the law requires the use of natural flavors only (prime examples would be liqueurs and the flavored vodkas mentioned by AJ). To avoid the use of natural flavors in products like the flavored vodkas above would be in direct and flagrant conflict with federal laws in place since about the 1930s. This being the case, does AJ really think it’s a good idea to suppress this information? And on what grounds? AJ also suggests that the term “organic” should not be used on products that meet the rigorous standards to qualify as organic. AJ is long on casting aspersions and short on constructive suggestions in saying “marketers should not use the term ‘organic’ to imply an alcoholic beverage is healthful. Additional oversight by federal regulators is needed here, as well.”
See Part 2 of 2 in about a week
Part of the challenge and complexity is that label rules and trends change often. As recently as a few years ago, TTB would balk about pre-eminently famous people, such as these, on alcohol beverage labels. Founding Fathers Beer is bottled by CBC Latrobe in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. I tend to doubt that TTB would allow a President Obama label, even today (except maybe as a caricature), but George Bush, Bill Clinton and the prior Presidents may well be fair game now or soon.
Sen. Charles Schumer spoke at a Finger Lakes winery late last week and said many wine labels take too long to get approved. He was especially concerned about labels submitted to TTB by New York’s more than 300 wineries. MPNnow.com reported:
the delays — sometimes up to three months — result in wineries not being able to market their wines. The Washington, D.C., agency’s staff has been shaved by budget cutbacks over the last decade while the tide of label-approval applications from wineries nationwide almost doubled from 69,000 in 1999 to 132,500 in 2010, said spokesman Tom Hogue. “And that doesn’t take into account any of the time going back and forth with applicants to make sure labels they’ve submitted actually meet the legal requirements,” Hogue said.
John Martini, co-owner of Anthony Road Wine Co. said:
label approval used to take a week. One label he submitted online May 12 was approved June 15, but he said he has heard horror stories of approvals taking 75 to 90 days. He said new wineries often have long delays because their labels don’t meet the specifics of the label law, which was approved after Prohibition ended. However, he said, “Every winery has a goofy TTB label story.”
The Senator’s press release, and letter to TTB, are here. Key points are:
- Many New York wineries have received rejected labels from TTB with a request to correct one issue, only to make that change and receive notification of a new correction. This creates a back and forth or ping-pong effect that can result in weeks of backlogs and headaches for these wineries, and prevents bottles from hitting the shelves. Schumer asks that the TTB clearly identify all of the issues that need to be addressed on the first rejection.
- Now New York wineries are reporting it can take at least one month to receive approval of an electronically-filed COLA application and two months for a paper application. It takes even longer in the event TTB rejects a label and it must be corrected and resubmitted to re-start the COLA process.
- For new wineries, the effect can be devastating as one winery reported waiting almost a year for label approvals which nearly kept them from opening for business this year.
- Wine industry experts estimate that as many as 10% of the labels waiting in the application process are personalized labels produced to commemorate special events like weddings and birthdays. In the past, TTB permitted wineries to simply apply once for approval of a template to ensure it contained the required regulatory and safety warnings, after which the winery could personalize the artwork on the front of the labels to suit the specific event. TTB now requires individual approval as the labels are changed to suit the occasion.
I would like to see more news about the one that took almost a year. While Sen. Schumer makes some good points it is something of a platitude to say TTB needs to handle far more than 100,000 labels per year quicker, with fewer mistakes, and with fewer people. He does not propose much by way of specific solutions. The suggestions about personalization (as at point 4 above) are not a cure-all because TTB does allow some personalization as here, and TTB probably never allowed one template approval to cover more than one brand, type or appellation.
I can find plenty of alcohol beverages made in Romania, for example, from the above lookup at TTB’s website. But I can’t find anything from Saudi Arabia.
Oh yes, it’s easy to say that Saudi Arabia is a major, majority-Muslim country and so I should not expect to find a single drop of alcohol beverages flowing out from or in to that country. Wikipedia says no less than 100% of the population is Muslim.
On the other hand, Turkey has far more Muslims, at 99% of the population — and no less than 370 label approvals in the TTB database. A recent wine approval is here.
Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country and also has about 25 label approvals in the database. Here is Panther Beer.
Rounding out the top 14 Muslim countries, the following countries (in addition to Saudi Arabia) do not even have a TTB lookup code: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sudan. Some of these countries are so strict that not even soy sauce or vanilla extract is tolerated.