Federal Agency Rules Seagram’s Ad Not Misleading

Times Staff Writer

A recent ruling by a federal regulatory agency exonerates advertisements by Joseph E. Seagram & Sons that promote the concept that typical servings of beer, wine and distilled spirits contain equal amounts of alcohol.

The action by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms absolves Seagram’s ads from complaints that messages concerning the alcohol equivalency issues were “misleading and inaccurate.”

Seagram’s, the nation’s largest distiller of spirits and second-leading wine company, had run full-page newspaper advertisements stating that “typical servings of beer, wine and distilled spirits each contain 1/2 ounce of the same form of alcohol, known as ethanol. The typical servings are 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine and 1 1/4 ounces of spirits.”

The Winegrowers of California took offense at being included in the comparison with distilled spirits and complained earlier this year to the federal government about the ads.


After reviewing the advertisements, the supporting research and the criticism, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ruled in Seagram’s favor. In a letter to the beverage firm, William T. Drake, the agency’s deputy director, stated that the “equivalency advertisements are not false and misleading from a medical and scientific standpoint.”

Decision to Be Appealed

Unhappy with the results of the federal review, the wine growers are going to appeal the decision. The group now maintains that the Seagram’s ads continue to be misleading because the differences between spirits and wine encompass broad-ranging drinking and cultural environments.

The wine growers released a statement in response to the government’s decision, which stated in part: “We never disagreed with the alcohol content issue. However, we have been stating all along that there are many other, more significant issues to consider in this so-called equivalency message that Seagram has raised.”


The wine association argues that wine is distinguished from spirits such as vodka, gin, bourbon and Scotch because wine is more often consumed with food, has less of an intoxicating effect on consumers and does not raise blood alcohol levels as high. Also, it says there is three times as much pure alcohol in a bottle of spirits as there is in a similar container of wine.

The wine growers were not the first group to object to the Seagram’s ads.

Commercial Time Denied

When the company’s alcohol equivalency campaign was nearing its inception, Seagram’s requested commercial time on network television to deliver its message. The three major networks--ABC, NBC and CBS--all refused to sell Seagram’s air time, maintaining that the commercial was a disguised effort to advertise spirits on television. (Distillers voluntarily stopped advertising in the broadcast media years ago.)

In a letter to The Times, Sam Bronfman, president of the Seagram’s Classics Wine Co., discussed the firm’s reaction to the networks’ decision. He wrote, “They are contributing to the alcohol abuse problems in our country by simultaneously airing hundreds of millions of dollars of beer and wine advertising while also airing public service announcements telling people to concern themselves about alcohol abuse.

“This juxtaposition leaves the glaring and indisputable impression that such concern need not relate to beer or wine. It is hard to calculate the magnitude of the danger to which the networks are subjecting our young people through the incessant delivery of this misguided message,” according to Bronfman.

On the broader issue on the effects of alcoholic beverages on consumers, Bronfman wrote, “There is no significant difference in the effects of beer, wine and liquor. . . . What is truly irresponsible is to encourage the public belief that a typical serving of one form of beverage alcohol is ‘lighter’ or contains less alcohol than another.”

Saving Beef--A recent conference devoted to the livestock industry heard dire predictions about beef consumption in this country. The continuing decline is unlikely to be reversed unless cattlemen and packers devise new ways of presenting this red meat, according to California Farmer magazine.


“We won’t make any progress in increasing beef consumption until we get away from selling the commodity beef and begin marketing products derived from beef,” one supermarket executive was quoted as saying.

The article also stated that current advertisements promoting beef, under the theme “Beef Gives Strength,” are ineffective and most likely just give those in the meat industry “a warm feeling.”

Beef has been battered by consumers avoiding red meat because of concern about fat consumption and cholesterol intake. The conference was urged to move toward fat-free products and other processed beef items.