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Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

Category archives for “Certificate of Label Approvals”

TTB Updates its Position on Gluten-Free Label Claims

February 11th, 2014

On Tuesday, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) issued an Announcement regarding its treatment of “gluten-free” claims on alcoholic beverage labels. As we previously blogged here, TTB has been looking into the issue of gluten-free labeling since at least 2012, and TTB Ruling 2012-2 implemented a policy of allowing the term “gluten-free” only on the labels of products that are produced without any ingredients that contain gluten. For products made from gluten-containing materials, the 2012 Ruling implemented several requirements, including: a) a statement that the product is “Processed or Treated or Crafted to remove gluten;” b) a qualifying statement to inform consumers that (i) the product was made from a grain that contains gluten, (ii) there is currently no valid test to verify the gluten content of fermented products, and (iii) the finished product may contain gluten; and, c) a detailed description of the method used to remove gluten from the product.

TTB explains in its most recent announcement that it has finished its review of the FDA’s rule on gluten-free labeling, and has updated its requirements accordingly. TTB will continue to allow the term “gluten-free” only on the labels of products that are produced without any ingredients that contain gluten. However, for products made from gluten-containing materials, TTB has lessened the labeling requirements, and now provides that such products may be labeled with a statement that the product was “processed, “treated” or “crafted” to remove gluten, if that claim “is made together with a qualifying statement that warns the consumer that the gluten content of the product cannot be determined and that the product may contain gluten.” Labels no longer require a detailed description of the method used to remove gluten from the product.

If you have any questions about alcoholic beverage labeling, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·

Federal Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco and Tax and Trade Bureau (‘TTB’) Shut Down

October 1st, 2013

Effective October 1, 2013 TTB has suspended operations as part of the federal government shutdown.  TTB.gov remains operable and industry members can continue to file electronic payments and returns for federal excise taxes online.  However, all E-applications including Permits Online, Formulas Online and COLAs Online are unavailable. Please refer to the TTB’s cessation notice here.

What does this mean for Industry Members? The short answer is that processing times will slow or stop until funding has been restored. It is still too soon to tell what the long term impacts will be, but in the short term we anticipate significant delays in the issuance of basic permits, label approvals and formula approvals. We’ll keep you posted as the situation develops.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·

TTB Says Alcohol Content Can Move to the Back Label for Wine

June 10th, 2013

Announced today, and effective August 9, 2013, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (the TTB) has announced changes to its labeling requirements for wine. Amending 27 CFR 4.32, the alcohol content for wine no longer must appear on the brand label, and instead it may be printed on the brand label or on other labels affixed to the bottle, including the back label. The TTB also amended 27 CFR 4.36 to the effect that wines with alcohol content of at least 7 percent and no more than 14 percent may still be labeled with either (a) the designation of “light wine” or “table wine” on the brand label, or (b) the numerical alcohol content of the wine. The new amendments do not permit the “light wine” or “table wine” designations to appear on any label other than the brand label. A new COLA is not required if the only change made to an approved label is the relocation of the alcohol content statement.  If you have any questions about labeling, contact an attorney at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·

Do “Illegal” Alcohol Sales Create Trademark Rights? The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Says Maybe So.

November 26th, 2012

As more and more beverage brands are introduced into the U.S., it is becoming increasingly difficult for suppliers to come up with unique trademarks that do not infringe marks already in use by others. As a result, trademark disputes involving alcohol beverage brands are common. Such disputes typically come down to the issue of priority of use – if the marks and the products are very similar, i.e., both are alcoholic beverages – the party with first commercial use will have priority and will likely be entitled to register the trademark. One of the fundamental elements used to prove first-use for alcohol products and to establish priority over other users is the date on which a Certificate of Label Approval (“COLA”) was issued. As most alcoholic beverage producers and importers are aware, a COLA is required before alcohol products can be legally imported or sold in the U.S.  Sales of such products without a COLA would constitute an illegal sale under 27 CFR 4.50 (wine) 5.51 (distilled spirits) and 7.41 (beer). Because sales of a product without a COLA are not legal sales, they do not constitute bona fide use in commerce and may not be relied upon in establishing trademark priority. At least, that’s what many of us thought. But a recent decision of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) suggests otherwise.

In an opposition proceeding involving the PARLAY trademark, both parties were using the same trademark on wines and the parties disagreed on who had priority. The opposer argued that the earliest use date relied on by the other party was actually before the labels had been issued a COLA; therefore, they were unlawful and did not count for trademark priority. But the TTAB ruled against the opposer, noting that even if sales without a COLA were not strictly compliant with the federal labeling regulations, that was not sufficient to deny that user priority rights. Rather, the opposing party is required to show either: (1) that a court or regulatory body had made a formal determination of non-compliance, or (2) that the improper usage was so “tainted” it could not create trademark rights. In other words, if the labels were otherwise approvable and not misleading or deceptive to consumers, sales of those products without a COLA may still be used to establish priority, even though not technically legal. In the PARLAY case, the TTAB also noted the Draconian result of denying priority because of a regulatory lapse occurring several years before. The TTAB decision is non-precedential, so it’s not binding and future decisions of the TTAB may come out differently. But for those of us who frequently scan the TTB COLA registry to determine trademark priority, this decision is of great interest.

For trademark or COLA help, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·

TTB Implements Changes to Break COLA Logjam

July 11th, 2012

TTB recently released a new Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) form for alcoholic beverage labels, Form 5100.31, available here. The new form has several minor changes, but the most significant update is the expansion of the revisions that can be made to an approved label without having to submit a new COLA application. The new form should be a welcome change for industry members, who can now make more modifications to existing labels without waiting for TTB to approve the changes. The change is expected to significantly reduce the number of COLA applications submitted to TTB, thus reducing the turnaround time for new labels. The form became official early this month, and among the new revisions permitted to labels without the requirement of a new COLA application are:

- Re-position of label information, including text, illustrations, and graphics.

- Change of colors (background and text), font type and size, spelling and punctuation, and change from an adhesive label to one that is etched, painted, or printed directly on the container.

- Add a vintage date for wine labels (note that changing or deleting a vintage date was previously permitted, and the new form is only a change to the extent a vintage date is added where there was no vintage date previously).

- Change the optional “produced” or “made” by statements on wine labels to “blended,” “vinted,” “cellared,” or “prepared” by statements.

- Add, delete, or change UPC barcodes and/or 2D mobile barcodes, e.g., QR codes or Microsoft Tags (previously, only “UPC codes” were explicitly listed).

- Add, delete, or change trademark, copyright symbols (e.g., TM, ©), kosher symbols, company logos, and/or social media icons.

- Add, delete, or change information about awards or medals.

- Add, delete, or change holiday, and/or seasonal-themed graphics, artwork, and/or salutations.

- The new form also removes the requirement for separate COLA applications for packages that are 237 mL and below or 3 liters and above.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have questions about the new form or the COLA application process.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·

Gluten Claims on Beer, Wine, and Distilled Spirits Labels

May 30th, 2012

TTB issued an extensive ruling last week that provides guidance to industry members seeking to label their products with statements about gluten-content. TTB Ruling 2012-2, available here, serves as in interim policy on the gluten-related labeling claims, until such time as the FDA, which governs labeling for all food items, and TTB finalize rules on the subject. As consumer demand for all types of gluten-free foods and beverages has risen over the last several years, proper labeling of those products has been a difficult issue for both the FDA and TTB. At its core, the problem is that testing for gluten-content remains imprecise. As a result, laws and regulations that permit labeling products as “gluten-free” or claiming a certain amount of gluten content have been slow to develop, and TTB’s practice has been to reject label applications that include gluten-based claims. TTB’s interim policy provides a means for industry members to include some gluten-related labeling information on their labels, and will likely result in the approval of more labels that claim to be gluten-free or low in gluten.

The FDA, and by extension TTB, has struggled with a definition for “gluten-free” for nearly a decade. The FDA was first tasked with issuing a rule to define “gluten-free” with the passage of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. The FDA then issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in 2007, proposing to define the term “gluten-free.” The proposed definition included that the item have no more than 20 parts gluten per million. The FDA has still not issued a final rule, and in 2011 recognized that for some food types, including fermented foods, there are no validated methods to determine if the product contains less than 20 parts gluten per million. Throughout the FDA’s process, TTB has deferred making its own rules related to gluten. The interim policy is TTB’s first effort to address the issue.

TTB regulates alcohol labeling and advertising through the Federal Alcohol Administration Act “FAA Act” and its regulations at 27 CFR parts 4, 5, and 7. At issue are regulations that: a) prohibit the use of labeling or advertising statements that are false or untrue in any particular, b) prohibit, irrespective of falsity, statements that directly, or by ambiguity, omission or inference, or by the addition of irrelevant, scientific or technical matter, tend to create a misleading impression, c) prohibit the use of any health-related statements in the labeling or advertising of wine, distilled spirits, or malt beverages if such statements are untrue in any particular or tend to create a misleading impression.

In its interim policy, TTB agrees with the FDA that “there are no scientifically valid methods for accurately measuring the gluten content of fermented products.” Up until now, this fact and the requirement that TTB prohibit misleading labels and advertising has meant that labels that include gluten-related claims have been rejected. TTB’s new guidelines provide a means for industry members to get labels approved that previously would have been rejected.

The interim policy sets forth two primary rules. First, TTB will allow the term “gluten-free” on the labels of products that are produced without any ingredients that contain gluten. For example, wines produced from grapes or vodka produced from potatoes may include the statement “gluten-free” on their labels or advertising material. No products made from gluten-containing materials may be labeled as “gluten-free.” For those products made from gluten-containing materials, including spirits and malt beverages “produced using wheat, barley, rye, or a crossbred hybrid of these grains,” TTB will allow labels that contain all of the following information: a) a statement that the product is “Processed or Treated or Crafted to remove gluten;” b) a qualifying statement to inform consumers that (i) the product was made from a grain that contains gluten, (ii) there is currently no valid test to verify the gluten content of fermented products, and (iii) the finished product may contain gluten; and c) a detailed description of the method used to remove gluten from the product. Approved statements may not contain any reference to the level of gluten in the product. Additionally, in order to evaluate the method used to remove gluten from the product, TTB will require submission of results of the “R5 Mendez Competitive ELISA assay” for the finished product for the purpose of screening the validity and effectiveness of the method used to remove gluten. Such statements may only be made on labels where the gluten content is less than 20 parts per million.

Despite the strict standard set by the TTB for gluten-related labeling, the new guidance is likely to result in numerous submissions for label-approvals based on the new rules.   For additional information on labeling issues, feel free to contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·

New TTB Guidance on COLAs

October 13th, 2011

The TTB recently announced new guidance on personalized labels, which supersedes its prior guidance in TTB G 2010-1 from April 7, 2010. The guidance provided in 2010 did not allow changes to artwork or graphics on a personalized label without resubmission of the label for approval. The TTB has relaxed its view and now will allow changes to graphics and artwork on personalized labels without requiring application for a new certificate of label approval (“COLA”). Names, event dates and salutations can also be changed without applying for a new COLA, as was previously allowed under the 2010 guidance. Personalized labels are for use with targeted customers or clients for things like weddings and grand openings. They are distinct from private labels, which remain subject to the standard COLA requirements and require resubmission for a COLA when label artwork is changed.

In order to obtain this flexibility on personalized labels, such preference must be indicated on the initial COLA application and the information that may change must be described. The label must still contain all standard mandatory label information. When issuing the COLA approval for personalized labels the TTB will include a qualification stating that the COLA covers the label and any changes in “graphics, salutations, congratulatory dates and names, and artwork to personalize the label as indicated on the application.” The new guidance is available here. If you would like to discuss COLA applications, please feel free to contact any of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Bioengineering and the TTB

September 9th, 2011

People, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, are often concerned about genetically modified organisms or bioengineering in their food. Given the fervor, does it make sense for suppliers to assume the concern extends to alcoholic beverages and label accordingly? While some manufacturers may want to highlight that their products are “GMO free” or “GM free,” the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) current policy prohibits such labeling. Producers of non-alcoholic beverages have a little more latitude regarding GM labeling: The FDA’s position is that special labeling of bioengineered or genetically modified foods is not required, but manufacturers may voluntarily label their foods with such information. Additional information on the FDA’s position is available here. The TTB tends to be very cautious in allowing new types of information on alcohol labels and often prohibits any reference whatsoever until they have had the opportunity for careful review and can provide guidance in the proper manner of presenting such information. This has been true in the context of organic labeling and with respect to nutritional information (e.g., calories, fat, carbs, etc.). So we can expect that the TTB will weigh in with some direction on how GM-related statements can be offered in the future, but for now, they cannot be used on alcoholic beverage labels. Be sure to keep the TTB’s position in mind before submitting a certificate of label approval with any “GMO” related terms or references.

TTB Maintains Strict Requirements for Organic Labeling Claims

August 24th, 2011

Ever wonder whether the claim that a wine uses “organic grapes” is really true?  Wine is one area where if such claims make their way onto a wine bottle, they are almost certainly valid, as the TTB and the National Organic Program (“NOP”) maintain extremely strict requirements for organic claims on the label.  The NOP has four primary categories for alcoholic beverages: 1) “100% Organic,” 2) “Organic,” meaning at least 95% organic and with no chemically added sulfites, 3) “Made with Organic [ingredients],” requiring at least 70% organic ingredients and may contain chemically added sulfites, and 4) for certain products that contain less than 70% organic ingredients, the ingredients statement may disclose the organic components.

In order to make any organic claims on a wine bottle or other alcohol label, TTB requires several sources of verification, making for a comprehensive but arduous application process.  Along with the items normally required for label approval, applicants must first provide a Processor’s or Handler’s Operation Certificate, which certifies that the winery uses accepted NOP standards. This is often referred to by the TTB as the “organic certificate.”  Notably, imported wines sometimes have difficulty meeting this requirement because foreign certifications are only sufficient if the foreign entity is also a USDA-Accredited Certifying Agent.  Next, applicants must provide an Accredited Certifying Agent Preview, which indicates that the label has been reviewed and found to be in compliance with TTB rules.  Additionally, applicants may need to provide a crop certificate that certifies that the agricultural produce used in the product were grown to NOP standards.

The TTB also has specific rules for the label itself, including requiring a “certification statement,” which includes the name of the accredited certifying agent.  These requirements must be repeated for each vintage year, as labels for new vintages must be resubmitted for approval.

Notably, despite these strict requirements for organic wine labels, other statements on wine bottles that pertain to farming techniques and other “green” claims are largely unregulated by the TTB.  However, this is a fast-evolving area, so stay tuned.

If you need assistance with organic labels, the attorneys at Strike & Techel are familiar with the process and able to help.

UPDATE: On June 12, 2012, the TTB announced a change to the organic documentation requirements. A copy of the organic certificate is no longer required to accompany COLA applications for alcoholic beverages with “100% Organic,” “Organic,” or “Made with Organic (ingredients)” on their labels.  The Accredited Certifying Agent Preview is still required. Please eee the TTB release, available here, for additional information.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2012 · All Rights Reserved ·

We Want COLAs! When Do We Want Them? NOW!

August 18th, 2011

While patience is a long standing member of the virtue list, it’s not always easy. But a little patience goes a long way when dealing with regulatory compliance matters like certificate of label approvals (COLAs). The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) began accepting COLA applications online several years ago, which reduced the processing time for new COLA applications to just a few days. In their ongoing efforts to streamline their processes for industry members, the TTB began accepting formulas and permit applications online as well. More recently, the TTB announced a streamlined approval process along with the end of expedited review (previously discussed here and here). Notwithstanding these efforts, the volume of COLA applications has continued to swell with processing times becoming progressively longer. To help people estimate their wait time the TTB is now providing average COLA processing times through its website (the information is in a chart on the upper right hand side of the page) or by phone (dial 1-866-927-2533, press 4 for malt beverages and distilled spirits labels and 6 for wine labels). Given government budgets cuts and increases in label approval applications, it seems likely that the days of getting labels approved in four or five days are not likely to return.  The federal labeling regulations allow the TTB to take up to 90 days to approve a COLA application. 27 C.F.R. § 13.21(b) (2011). Processing times currently are much shorter than that, but industry members should plan accordingly and allow at least 30 days for label approval through COLAs Online.  The attorneys are Strike & Techel are available if you need assistance with TTB regulatory matters, including COLAs.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2011 · All Rights Reserved ·