Supermarket to place health warnings on drinks shelves

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A leading supermarket will launch a pioneering initiative next month warning shoppers to drink no more than a third of a bottle of wine a day.

Waitrose will put health warnings across its shelves from next month amid concern over binge drinking. It is the first time a leading supermarket has explicitly told shoppers just how much they ought to drink.

The markers will outline the daily limits for men and women and will be placed next to a specific bottle of wine, beer or spirit to explain how many units it contains. One unit is equivalent to 10ml of pure alcohol, which equates to a pub measure of spirits or half a pint of ordinary-strength lager. An average 175ml glass of wine is equivalent to two units, and a bottle of wine with a 12 per cent alcohol content contains about nine units. The Department of Health recommends women drink no more than two to three units of alcohol a day or 14 units a week and that men drink no more than three to four a day or 21 units a week.

Some supermarkets have already introduced advisory labelling on units of alcohol on their own-brand wines. But none has displayed such information for customers on the shelves.

Waitrose's move comes amid rising concerns about the health risks of heavy drinking. New research showsBritish women aged 18 to 24 drink an average 270 bottles of wine each a year. The figures released by Datamonitor also revealed drinking by British women across all age groups had risen 27 per cent in five years. Earlier this year, ministers published their alcohol strategy plan which included proposals for putting a "sensible drinking" message clearly on bottles along with unit information.

Supermarkets have been blamed by charities working to fight alcohol abuse for fuelling binge drinking with two-for-one offers. Waitrose said its policy was to encourage customers to trade up by buying a better-quality wine for less money rather than offering two-for-one promotions. "Everyone who sells alcohol has a responsibility to sell it in a responsible way," said a spokeswoman.

Asda has also announced the trial of a scheme in its Manchester store where anyone who looks younger than 24 will be asked for ID to curb problems with binge drinking. The company said it carried labels on its own wines telling customers there are one and a half units of alcohol in a 125ml glass. Tesco said it was the first supermarket to label its brand wines with the number of units per bottle, and Sainsbury's and the Co-op both said they carried unit information on own-brand bottles.

Alcohol Concern, which wants unit labelling on drinks sold in pubs, welcomed the initiatives. "The main thing is that all retailers should follow good practice and back that up by not having irresponsible promotions," a spokes-woman said.

Additional reporting by Sophie Morris

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