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Japanese brewers to display alcohol content by gram after gov't request to tackle addiction

Beer products are seen on shelves at a supermarket in the city of Chiba on Oct. 1, 2020. (Mainichi/Hajime Nakatsugawa)

TOKYO -- Japanese brewers are preparing to display alcoholic content in their drinks in grams as the government is set to ask the liquor industry to display how much alcohol is actually contained in products in addition to the "alcohol by volume" (ABV) shown on labels.

    The request is part of the government's basic plan for promoting measures against alcohol-related health problems, designed to prevent alcohol addictions and other adverse effects of drinking. The government will obtain Cabinet approval for the move in the near future.

    Under legislation related to Japan's Liquor Tax Act, manufacturers are required to display ABV, or the percentages of alcohol, on their product containers. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, meanwhile, has set the reference standard for the daily alcohol intake that could raise the risk of people developing lifestyle-related diseases at 40 grams or more for men and 20 grams or more for women.

    The amount of alcohol in a 500-milliliter can of beer with 5% ABV translates to 20 grams, but Japan's health care and other industries have pointed out that the current method of displaying the level of alcohol with percentages alone makes it difficult for consumers to understand exactly how much alcohol they are ingesting.

    Lately in Japan, "strong" chuhai (shochu highball) drinks with a typical ABV of around 10% -- roughly twice that of beer and regular chuhai drinks -- have become huge sellers. Manufacturers are scrambling to develop strong chuhai products, but there have been growing voices of concern over the risk of consumers taking in large volumes of alcohol via these products with little awareness. The government has accordingly decided to ask brewers to display the amount of alcohol alongside the ABV so consumers are aware of how much alcohol they are imbibing.

    In response to the government's request, nine industry groups whose members include brewers of beer, sake and western liquor will draw up a plan to display alcoholic content in their products in a uniform manner.

    A can of beer imported from the United States bears a description "2.45 UK UNITS," in this photo taken in Tokyo on March 1, 2021. One unit equals 8 grams of alcohol. (Mainichi/Hajime Nakatsugawa)

    Ahead of the industrywide move, major Japanese beer manufacturers are set to begin specifying the amounts of alcohol in their products by the gram on their websites and elsewhere. From the end of March, Asahi Breweries Ltd. will show the amount of alcohol in grams for its main products including "Super Dry" beer on its website, and plans to specify the amounts on product labels as well in the future. Kirin Brewery Co. is similarly set to begin displaying alcohol content in grams on its products by 2024, and implement such labeling on almost all of its canned beer and chuhai products by 2027.

    Sapporo Breweries Ltd. is poised to release information on the content of alcohol in grams in its products on its website around mid-2021, and will print the figures on products by 2025. Suntory Holdings Ltd. plans to unveil amounts in grams for its beers, whiskies and other products on its website by the end of the year. The firm is still looking into when to start listing the amounts on products, according to its public relations department.

    A senior official at one Japanese beer brewer commented, "In part due to the growing trend in Europe and the United States of holding manufacturers liable for people's excessive intake of alcohol, following the tobacco industry being targeted (over the harmful effects of its products on people's health), we will introduce a method to display alcohol content in a way that is easy for consumers to understand."

    (Japanese original by Hajime Nakatsugawa, Business News Department)

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