Producers will decide how best to convey alcohol information – either on the label and online or just on the internet, EURACTIV.com has learnt.
The alcoholic beverages industry will present this month a “self-regulatory” proposal regarding the labelling of its products.
The proposal comes after a two-year delayed call by the European Commission, which opted for a self-regulatory approach to alcohol labelling.
Under the current regime, alcoholic beverages are not obliged to indicate the list of ingredients and nutrition declaration, which is not the case for other foods.
Online or offline information is one of the “hot potatoes” of this debate.
The alcohol industry claims that online information provides more clarity while consumer groups say this approach is misleading because few people bother going online to check nutritional information.
In mid-March, alcohol industry representatives have asked for a meeting with Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis to present their proposal.
EURACTIV has learnt that there will be a common part accompanied by four sectorial annexes that will explain in more detail what each sector will do (beer, wine, spirits, cider).
The general principle is that individual producers will be able to decide what information they provide on the label and online. Others, including the high number of SMEs and micro-enterprises that produce alcoholic beverages, are likely to use on-line means only for now.
According to the industry, this will ensure “inclusiveness” of the proposal, considering the different market characteristics and varying legal frameworks at national level.
The 100ml challenge
The spirits industry claims that information about the calories contained in alcoholic beverages should be provided “per glass” and not per 100ml, which is the legal measurement currently in force for all drinks across Europe. But the Brewers do not share the same view.
The spirits industry argues that the 100ml measure is misleading because few people would drink that much. The quantity is in fact largely above what’s recommended for health and safety reasons. Spirits are usually served at 30ml.
“It’s plain obvious that this would not really be a level-playing field,” the industry source said.
But beer producers say the quantities should be the same in order for consumers to make comparisons.
The online labelling is presented as a tool to bridge the industry divisions on the issue, EURACTIV understands.
On 28 February, the EU brewers held a meeting with Commissioner Andriukaitis, who expressed his satisfaction for the commitments.
The Brewers of Europe claim that self-regulation is already working for beer as over 60% of EU beers label ingredients in 2017 with legally presented nutrition, or specifically energy, values ever more the norm, predominantly on the label, complimented by digital platforms.
Online: Beyond the regulation
According to the industry, information will be provided in clear and comprehensive ways, which will ensure that the purpose of the regulation to provide a basis for final consumers to make informed choices is entirely met.
“The projected timeframe in which this is aimed to be achieved, will guarantee that consumers will receive such information sooner than would be the case with new EU legislation,” the sources explained.
“Online, we will go well beyond the regulation and provide additional important information about raw materials and production, responsible consumption and health,” the sources added.
“Online, we have the space to go into detail and the option to tailor language.”
NGOs took up in arms
Public health NGOs fear the industry will come up with a proposal having as a basis the online labelling and claim this is not enough.
“The industry says that online options will reduce burden on operators. Yes, they will by shifting it to the consumer. Does the alcohol industry really have so little respect and appreciation for its customers?,” Aleksandra Kaczmarek from the European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare) wondered.
Referring to 2016 Eurostat data, she said that 14% of the EU population had never used the internet. She also criticised QR codes, claiming that scanning requires a specialised app that few people have on their phones.
“Around 35% of Western Europeans do not own a smart phone, which effectively precludes the use of QR codes,” she said.
She also stated that according to the European Commission, 44% of Europeans lack basic digital skills. “Why would the alcohol industry then choose to ignore so many of its customers?”
Nikolai Pushkarev, Policy Coordinator in the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), said that online labelling sounds like a misleading euphemism: labels are placed on products, information can be put on websites.
“We would love to be proven wrong, but expectations on the common self-regulatory proposal are not running high from our end. Limiting information to online is entirely unsatisfactory, and not what consumers want,” Pushkarev said.
“If online is the core of the proposal, it would be another sign of how a part of this industry disrespects its own customers. And it would also be another confirmation that self-regulation is the wrong instrument to deal with sensitive policy issues,” he added, emphasising that this process will further delay action to achieve the obvious: application of the same labelling rules to alcoholic beverages as to non-alcoholic beverages.