Warning labels which say how much alcohol drinks contain, along with daily recommended amounts, have been prepared by health officials.

The labels, which could be applied to every bottle, can and carton of alcohol sold in the UK, would say how many units it contained and give alcohol consumption guides for men and women.

Unlike the dire health warnings attached to cigarette packets, the labelling system proposed contains messages such as "Know Your Limits" and "Enjoy Responsibly".

Ministers are hoping to persuade all major brewers, drink firms and others in the industry to take the scheme up voluntarily, avoiding the need to push the issue through the EU and present the case on a Europe-wide basis.

The Department of Health have now sent a sample of the labels to industry bodies.

The Portman Group, which promotes responsible drinking on behalf of around 60% of UK producers, responded cautiously yesterday, warning that a sensible drinking message is "complex and differs in many social circumstances."

David Poley, the Portman Group's chief executive, said: "Providing full and accurate information on a small label is not easy because of the limited space.

"We are currently in discussions with Government about whether additional information can practically and usefully be incorporated to further educate the public."

The labelling scheme would be applied across the UK, as drinks manufactured on one side of the border may be consumed by its neighbours.

A spokeswoman for the DoH said there had been discussions with the Scottish Executive and representatives from the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies over their involvement in the scheme and discussion was under way with drinks manufacturers.

Jack Law, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, welcomed the proposals. He said yesterday: "We want to see all drink labels showing the unit content in the context of recommended guidelines.

"For example, a bottle of beer could say this bottle contains half your recommended daily alcohol limit'.

"Standard health warning messages should stress that drinking more than the recommended guidelines carries health risks.

"We would also like to see specific warning messages about abstinence when pregnant or driving."

Health officials want the warning to take up around 15% of the "back label" on bottles, or a size to be agreed on cans, beer pumps and points of sale in supermarkets and the off-trade. For bottles of wine and spirits the DoH has proposed a picture to show how many units in the bottle and also one to show how many units an average glass holds.

A precise figure - such as 1.7 units - is recommended for accuracy and health chiefs want the message to stand out on the label. Then it will remind drinkers that UK health departments recommend not exceeding 3-4 units a day for men and 2-3 units a day for women.

The labels will also include the drinkaware website for those with an alcohol problem and a message, warning women who are pregnant or trying to conceive, that they should not drink.

Neil Williams, spokesman for the British Beer & Pub Association, said: "In principle we are happy with the DoH proposal, but we are still in discussions with them."

Kate Coleman, spokeswoman for the Wine Spirit Trade Association, said: "It is voluntary and this back label message is only the start."