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28/09/2016

Commission delays report on alcohol labelling – again

Agriculture & Food

Commission delays report on alcohol labelling – again

EU adults consume 12.5 litres of pure alcohol per year, according to the World Health Organisation.

[Kaktuslampan/Flickr]

EXCLUSIVE / The European Commission has again delayed the publication of a report on how to include alcoholic drinks under existing EU labelling rules on nutrition and ingredients.

The report was supposed to be adopted by December 2014, but was postponed until “the end of 2015” by the Commission. 

However, other priorities have further delayed work on this sensitive topic, a spokesperson from the Commission’s health directorate (DG SANTE) told EurActiv. Only preliminary discussions with member states have taken place so far, as well as bibliographic research.

“While the Commission intends to fulfil its legal obligation to adopt this report, a precise date of adoption cannot yet be given,” the spokesperson said.

>> Read: Delayed Commission report on alcohol labelling frustrates beer industry

Paul Skehan, the director general of SpiritsEurope, which represents the spirits and liquor industry at EU level, told EurActiv that while the industry awaits the report, he understands the difficulties the Commission faces in coming up with a meaningful report and relevant recommendations.

“For us, the timing of the report is much less important than the quality of the final recommendations they will make. It is important for the Commission to come up with the right proposal that will not destroy years of consumer information campaigns we have mounted to promote responsible drinking,” he said.

Alcoholic beverages were excluded from the regulation because lawmakers could not agree on a definition for so-called alcopops, which are mixtures of alcoholic beverages with soft drinks or juices. The Commission was given until December 2014 to define alcopops, and to deliver a report about how alcoholic beverages should be treated under the regulation.

As a response to the delay of the report last year, parts of the industry this year decided to voluntarily provide this information to consumers, but with different approaches.

While the beer sector in March annonced its intentions to list ingredients and nutrition information on their brands per 100ml, the spirits sector said over the summer it would provide calorie information by standard drinks (and not by 100ml) but also for a random selection of drinks available on the market.

“We aim to provide relevant, easily understandable information that addresses consumers’ needs, while waiting for the report from the Commission on energy and ingredients labelling,” Skehan said then.

Cancelled forum

Labelling is not the only area where the Commission is not taking action on alcohol further.

In May, Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis indicated in a speech that it’s unlikely that the EU’s executive will publish a separate strategy on how EU member states should tackle alcohol-related harm after the previous strategy expired in 2012.

This prompted twenty public health organisations to resign from the European Alcohol and Health Forum (EAHF), a stakeholder platform, in June.

>> Read: Health NGOs walk out of EU alcohol forum

This month, the remaining members of the EAHF received a letter from the Commission informing them of the cancellation of the EAHF’s November plenary meeting. It was the first time since the Forum was set up in June 2007 that a meeting was cancelled. 

The cancellation was met with regret by the industry.

“The EU needs to continue and step up its work to reduce harmful alcohol use,” said Malte Lohan, global corporate affairs director at the world’s largest brewer, AB InBev. 

Lohan referred to a recent report by the Parliament which confirmed that working with all stakeholders often delivers more and faster change than the laws alone.

The spokesperson from DG SANTE said the Commission wishes to continue to meet all alcohol stakeholders regularly, but which form these meetings will have is less important. 

>> Read: Fighting alcohol harm: Preserving the multi-stakeholder approach

“From our side it is difficult to see the added value of the EAHF,” said Mariann Skar, the secretary general of Eurocare, one of the alcohol NGOs that have left the forum. 

“Our trust and believe in good intentions from the alcohol industry have been broken,” she said. 

She highlighted that while the beer sector has made significant commitments in terms of both ingredient labels and health information other sectors have not only not followed, but also criticised this move.

Skar also mentioned that while the industry at the first meetings of the EAHF acknowledged that sponsorship of events such as FormulaOne with speeding cars and alcohol was inappropriate, there were on average 11 references to alcohol brands per minute for viewers during the 2014 Monaco F1 race. 

Skar said that despite the fact that the EAHF is no longer functioning, she’s still confident that the NGOs together with the Commission will find good solutions to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm.

Background

After three years of negotiations, EU lawmakers adopted a new regulation on food information for consumers in 2011.

The new law, which entered into force in December 2014, aims to help consumers make informed decisions on the food they buy, and help them make healthier choices.

>> Read: EU food labelling rules ready, new round to start

Food business operators were granted a transitional period of three years to adapt until the rules came into effect, on 13 December 2014. 

Moreover, new mandatory rules for nutrition declaration, such as energy, fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt, which have to be displayed on back of a pack per 100 gram or mililitres, will only apply from 13 December 2016. 

Alcoholic drinks have so far not been included under the new EU-wide food labelling rules.

Timeline

  • 13 December 2016: Mandatory rules for nutrition declaration, such as energy, fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt will apply for food and non-alcoholic drinks in Europe.