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Wine industry given 'a free ride' with alcohol content labels' 1.5 per cent leeway

Under current food and drink laws, New Zealand winemakers are given huge latitude when it comes to alcohol claims on wine bottles, meaning a bottle with a 12.5 per cent label at the supermarket could legally be 11 or even 14 per cent alcohol.

Massey University professor Andy Tower joined TVNZ's Breakfast this morning to explain the reasons behind the 1.5 per cent lenience.

Mr Tower said, "Firstly, there's no massive issue with regards to your immediate health harm, so no one needs to panic about such a small percentage change."

However, he said there are "two much broader concerns" – drink-driving and our "lax approach to alcohol labelling".

"We have an issue with drink-driving in New Zealand, and we need – Kiwis need – accurate labels on alcohol to tell how much they can drink and how much they can’t. I mean, this sort of leeway could actually be why a number of people are blowing above the limit when they don't think they should be above the limit," he said.

"If you're drinking one drink that's 1.5 per cent [above the alcohol content placed on the label], it might not be, but if you're drinking a couple over a certain period of time – maybe three and you're actually thinking, 'Over this period of time, I should be OK' – actually, you're drinking more powerful drinks than you think, and yes, it can make a difference, especially with our lowered alcohol laws."

He said it was unknown why food and drink laws have a lax approach to labels on wine bottles but not other types of alcohol, adding, "We're wondering that ourselves”.

“It’s unclear why the wine industry in particular are getting a little bit of a free ride when, certainly, wider partners in the alcohol industry aren’t, but it is a concern".

Mr Tower said while there are seasonal variations in milk, the milk production companies "can get it right", adding, "And yet, the alcohol industry – the wine industry in particular – are saying, it's too much of an issue for us to battle this seasonal variation, just give us some leeway'".

"It's not an argument. We clearly see that there are examples in New Zealand that get it right, so basically, what we need to say is, "It's not a 'me' problem, it’s a 'you' problem so sort it out.'

"If the industry itself says, 'We can't judge this, it's too onerous on our smaller producers,' that says more about the issues in the alcohol industry itself than what we should be willing to accept."

Massey University professor Andy Tower joined Breakfast this morning to discuss why it could cause issues. Source: Breakfast