EU goes easy on alcohol in cancer plan

"Excellence is in moderation," said EU's health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, asked about alcohol consumption. [SHUTTERSTOCK/VIEWAPART]

Alcoholic drinks have been treated differently to tobacco products in Europe’s Beating cancer plan, as overuse, not its use, will be targeted by the Commission’s initiatives.

The much-awaited EU cancer plan presented on Wednesday (3 February) aims to address key cancer risk factors such as cancers caused by smoking, harmful alcohol consumption, as well as exposure to pollution.

Confirming the figures in a leaked draft of the plan, the EU executive expects to deal a blow to tobacco use by adapting the EU control framework to novel products such as e-cigarettes and herbal products for smoking, with an ambitious goal of having fewer than 5% of EU citizens using tobacco in twenty years.

Contrary to what is provided for tobacco, the Commission chose to address only harmful alcohol consumption.

The EU legislation on taxation of alcohol will also be reviewed in order to balance the objectives of public revenue and health protection, the cancer plan states.

“What we will be doing is increasing awareness and looking at issues to do with alcohol affordability and availability,” explained Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

Asked what the EU means for harmful consumption, Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas said that it is about the “abuse of alcohol as defined by science, not by Brussels.”

According to the WHO, cancer was the leading cause in 2016 of alcohol-attributable deaths with a share of 29%, followed by liver cirrhosis (20%), cardiovascular diseases (19%) and injuries (18%) in Europe – including EU member states, the UK, Norway and Switzerland.

The Commission is also proposing mandatory labelling of ingredients and nutrient content, and health warnings on alcoholic beverages before the end of 2023.

“Certainly the European Union will not ban wine, and we will not label wine as being something that is toxic,” added Schinas.

Schinas is the Commissioner in charge of promoting the European way of life and he made clear that wine is “part of who we are and of our way of life.”

The Greek Commissioner also denied that the EU promotes alcohol as such through its promotion policy, which is intended to support the competitiveness of the European agri-food sector.

Eligible alcoholic products for promotion are limited to spirits or wines linked to the specific register of geographical indication under the EU quality schemes, or for wine carrying an indication of a certain regional grape variety.

The EU is currently reviewing the promotion policy for agricultural products with a view to enhance its contribution to sustainable production and consumption.

Commission dampens bid to end EU meat promotion

The European Commission has softened its stance on phasing out the promotion of red and processed meat in Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, and the latest change has received a mixed reception from stakeholders.

Alcohol labelling remains a sensitive issue in the EU policy agenda after the industry’s attempt to present its self-regulatory proposal that lead to a deadlocked negotiations with the Commission, partially overcome by a memorandum of understanding presented by the sector in 2019.

In the memorandum, the industry set up some commitments in terms of energy value and a list of ingredients to appear on the label of spirits.

The first Commission proposal is envisaged in the cancer plan for 2022 and will address the list of nutrients and a nutrition declaration on the label, while another proposal on health warnings is expected by 2023.

“We considered the memorandum of understanding and its implementation and important steps and this [proposal] will not undermine the results of what has already been achieved,” said Kyriakides.

Likewise, Schinas confirmed the Commission’s intention to build on the practical experience of the alcoholic beverage sector in order to give consumers the information that they need for a healthier lifestyle.

The European spirits association welcomed plans to encourage self and co-regulatory initiatives related to marketing.

“Alcoholic beverages should only be enjoyed in moderation, as part of a balanced lifestyle, by those adults who choose to drink,” said Ulrich Adam, Director general of SpiritsEUROPE.

Several associations of wine producers and importers have criticised the Commission’s plans to review the legislation on taxation of alcohol.

According to Italy’s winegrowers association Federvini, tax and regulatory measures tend to demonise drinking rather than effectively combat alcohol abuse, affecting consumers who drink responsibly.

EU cancer plan ushers in 'new era' for preventing, tackling cancer

Stakeholders in the health sector widely welcomed the long-awaited Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, unveiled on Wednesday (3 January), as a “new era for cancer care and cancer patients” which places the European Union at the forefront of research and innovation efforts. 

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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