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Why Ingredients Don't Appear on Beer Labels

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- It's going to take a lot more than a few days of online outrage to make brewers such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, MolsonCoors, SABMiller and Boston Beer divulge a complete list of ingredients on every bottle of beer they produce.

Beer labeling is a complex, heavily regulated process that doesn't tend to change unless it absolutely has to. The big brewers have the labeling game down to a science and smaller brewers have the label approval process timed so tightly that last year's government shutdown almost scrubbed a few batches off of the calendar completely. A blog entry from last July and some ensuing hashtag activism resulted in Anheuser-Busch InBev and MolsonCoors divulging brief lists of general ingredients, but did nothing to compel the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to change the way it labels beer or its ingredients.

Since 1987, the TTB and its predecessor -- the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- have been responsible for regulating the labeling of any drink that falls under the "malt beverage" definition laid out by the Federal Alcohol Administration Act. A little memorandum of understanding between the then-ATF and Food and Drug Administration left it up to the former to decide exactly what information needed to be on a beer bottle or can and what didn't.

Also see: Scare Tactics Won't Brew Better Beer

In the TTB's view, the beer label must-haves are as follows:

1. Brand name: A beer has to have one, and it can't mislead the public into thinking it's something it isn't. Basically, you can't call Budweiser "Happy Fun Juice."

2. Size of the container: 12 ounces, 22 ounces, 40 ounces, etc.

3. Type of beverage: Is it beer? Is it wine? Is it cider? Is it a fermented malt beverage?

4. The name and address of the brewer: It can be the full name and address or something as simple as Blue Moon Brewing Co., Denver, Colo., as long as you explain it to the TTB. If it's an import, the name and location of the importer has to be included.

5. Alcohol content: This is optional unless it's required by state law or prohibited by it.

6. Alcohol terms: "Low alcohol" or "reduced alcohol" can be used only if the beer is 2.5% alcohol by volume or less. "Non-alcoholic" applies to 0.5% ABV or less, while "alcohol-free" has to be 0.0% ABV.

7. Additives: FD&C Yellow No. 5, saccharine, sulfites and aspartame need to be disclosed.

8. Health warning: "GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems." This has to be included.

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