OTTAWA — Canadians deserve to know how much alcohol is in a standard-sized drink regardless of where they buy it, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett said this week.
But Bennett is not committing to a federal regulation that would force companies to add new labels to their products.
In January, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction issued new advice about how much alcohol is safe to consume, following 2.5 years of research funded by Health Canada.
The centre said limiting yourself to no more than two standard drinks a week will help you avoid alcohol-related health consequences. It recommended adding labels to alcohol bottles and cans explaining the health risks and with information about what a standard drink is.
Asked Tuesday about whether Canada would enforce such labels, Bennett said there would be some value to making sure Canadians understand exactly what one standard-sized drink actually is, particularly when consuming alcohol at home.
A standard drink contains 17.05 ml of pure alcohol. But it could be complicated to figure that out without a label.
A "standard" beer, cooler or cider would be a 341-ml can or bottle that contains five per cent alcohol. But many beers are sold in other sizes and alcohol contents. A bottle of Italian Peroni Nastro Azzurro sold at Ontario's LCBO stores is 330 ml and 5.2 per cent alcohol. Several craft beers are in cans of 473 ml and 6.5 per cent alcohol.
A standard glass of wine would be 142 ml with 12 per cent alcohol, but many wines also vary in their alcohol content, including some at 11 per cent, 12.5 per cent or 13.5 per cent.
A standard cocktail with spirits like vodka, gin or scotch would contain 43 ml of spirits with a 40 per cent alcohol content, but some can contain almost twice that.
While many spirits are 40 per cent, some are much higher. A bottle of Polish Spirytus Gdanski vodka, for example, is 76 per cent alcohol, while some spiced rum can be more than 80 per cent.
Bennett said if you order a triple drink at a bar, you know you're going to be getting a drink with three times the standard amount of alcohol.
"When you buy it at the store, you may not know how much is really in that," she said.
However, following a meeting Tuesday with the Beer Association of Canada, Bennett said she was hopeful the industry might tackle the labelling issue on its own.
"I met with the beer association today and I think we know we've got to do better on all of that."
She said companies moved to remove the chemical BPA from plastic water bottles after an outcry over the health effects more than a decade ago.
The new guidelines say individuals who drink three to six drinks per week are at an increased risk of developing several forms of cancer, including breast cancer and colon cancer. At seven or more drinks a week, the chance of stroke or heart disease increases, the new guidance states.
It is a stark difference from the last guidelines, published in 2011, which suggested that 15 drinks per week for men and 10 per week for women would be considered low-risk.
Bennett also said that she is excited about the growth in various non-alcoholic and low-alcoholic products in the last several years. But she said that is more true of beer and wine than it is for spirits.
"People are able to have much more choice than they used to have in non-alcoholic, low-alcohol beer and, and the proxies and the wines," says Bennett.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2023.
Maya Riachi, The Canadian Press