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TTB Expands List of Allowable Revisions to Approved Labels for Alcohol Beverages

On Monday, in Industry Circular Number 2014-02, TTB announced the expansion of its list of allowable revisions to approved labels for alcohol beverages, also known as Certificate of Label Approvals (“COLAs”). The agency currently maintains a list of allowable revisions to approved labels that outlines the permitted changes that can be made to an approved label without resubmitting the label for another agency approval. Prior to Monday, the list of allowable changes consisted of 28 separate items. In its expansion of allowable revisions to approved alcohol beverage labels, TTB noted the following additions to the list of allowable changes:

  1. Delete or change promotional sponsorship-themed graphics, logos, artwork, dates, event locations and/or other sponsorship-related information (e.g., sports leagues, team organizations, annual sporting events, and annual or semi-annual festivals);
  2. Add, delete, or change a label or sticker that provides information about a rating or recognition provided by an organization (e.g., “Recognized as one of the top values in vodka by x Magazine” or “Rated as the best 2012 wine by x Association”), as long as the rating or recognition reflects simply the opinion of the organization and does not make a specific substantive claim about the product or its competitors;
  3. Delete all organic references from the label;
  4. Change an approved sulfite statement to any of these options: “Contains Sulfites,” “Contains (a) Sulfiting Agent(s),” “Contains [name of specific sulfating agent],”“Contains Naturally Occurring and Added Sulfites,” or “Contains Naturally Occurring Sulfites.” “Sulphites” may be used in lieu of “Sulfites;”
  5. Add, delete, or change information about the number of bottles that were “made,” “produced,” “brewed,” or “distilled” in a batch; respectively; and
  6. Add certain instructional statements to the label(s) about how best to consume or serve the product. Only the statements listed in the comments section may be added. (These statements include pre-determined terms such as, “Refrigerate After Opening,” “Do Not Store in Direct Sunlight,” “Shake Well,” “Pour Over Ice,” and “Serve at Room Temperature.”)

See Expansion of Allowable Revisions to Approved Alcohol Beverage Labels. The above allowable revisions were effective the date of the TTB industry circular (Monday, September 29, 2014). Note: Any revisions to previously approved alcohol beverage labels must be made in compliance with 27 CFR parts 4, 5, 7, and 16, as well as any other applicable regulations or laws. With respect to the aforementioned changes, any alterations must also be in compliance with the notations in the “Comments” section of the Expansion of Allowable Revisions to Approved Alcohol Beverage Labels.

The above list is one of the mechanisms that TTB employs to reduce the number of label submissions it receives, and also serves as an attempt to ease regulatory constraints on industry. Generally speaking, the agency review well over 100,000 beer, wine, and spirits labels each year. While the average processing time for labels fluctuates, the review time is often several weeks and can be especially burdensome to industry members who need to make minor changes. While expanding its list of allowable revisions is helpful, it also demonstrates the dichotomy of TTB’s power: the agency’s authority, which derives from the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, is to prohibit consumer deception and the use of misleading statements on alcohol beverage products. In some instances in its expanded list, TTB determined a list of acceptable terms to add to an approved label (i.e., the instructional statements for consumption), but concurrently avoided providing industry members with the freedom to define or create their own terms or statements without requiring a new approval. 

For more information on wine or alcohol law, labeling, or TTB matters, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

Lindsey A. Zahn

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Lindsey is the founder and author of On Reserve: A Wine Law Blog. She is an alcohol beverage and food attorney and is admitted to the New York State Bar.

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