EU health chief says all alcoholic beverages should be labelled

Eurocare: "Wine bottles still have loads of space that can be used to provide information to consumers." [Shutterstock]

The European Commission wants the industry’s expected alcohol labelling self-regulatory proposal to cover all alcoholic beverages in order to avoid confusion among consumers.

Under the current regime, alcoholic beverages are not obliged to display a list of ingredients and a nutrition declaration, which is not the case for other foods [See background].

On 13 March, the European Commission offered an additional year for the alcohol industry to develop its own voluntary initiatives and provide a list of ingredients and nutrition declaration.

But the effectiveness of a self-regulatory approach on alcohol labelling has sparked intense discussions in Brussels. While public health activists claim the alcohol industry was given too much leeway to avoid regulation, the industry contends that self-regulation is the only way to address diverging national attitudes towards alcohol.

Alcohol makers brace for EU-wide mandatory labelling

Makers of spirits and beer are exploring self-regulatory solutions to show consumers the ingredients contained in the alcohol they drink. However, they find the Commission’s timeline “too tight” and fear mandatory rules will eventually be imposed on them.

The European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare) told that self-regulation could only work in a regulatory framework.

“We are extremely disappointed with the reactions of some sectors of the industry such as wine producers, for instance, some of their delaying and diversion tactics resemble the tobacco industry approach,” said Mariann Skar, the secretary general of Eurocare.

All sectors involved

In response to a written question by Croatian Socialist MEP Biljana Borzan [S&D], European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis made it clear that the entire alcohol sector should develop within one year a self-regulatory proposal on labelling.

“The Commission considers that this approach should cover all types of alcoholic beverages in order to avoid any misunderstanding or confusion from the consumers and to allow comparisons between the different types of alcoholic beverages,” the Lithuanian Commissioner said.

Andriukaitis added that the industry had one year to make a proposal and that once submitted, the executive will assess the compatibility of the proposal with the EU law.

EU sources recently told EURACTIV that in the event that the industry fails to come up with a sufficient proposal, the Commission will launch an impact assessment, which will consider both regulatory as well as non-regulatory options.

Lithuania’s new alcohol package raises eyebrows in industry

The Lithuanian government has unveiled new policy measures aimed at tackling alcohol-related harm, including increasing the legal age for buying and consuming alcoholic drinks.

Space and online labelling

The alcohol industry has recommended providing information on nutrition and ingredients online rather than on bottles. The main advantage of this is that consumers will have a complete knowledge of what they consume.

But for Eurocare, online labelling is not enough.

“The arguments that there isn’t enough space on the label are not justified, especially wine bottle still have loads of space that can be used to provide information to consumers,” Eurocare claims and dismisses at the same time the affordability of printing argument.

Dr Ignacio Sánchez Recarte, the Secretary General of the EU winemakers association (CEEV – Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins), told EURACTIV that the wine sector backs “adaptability” in labelling and a more tailor-made innovation-driven approach.

“We defend the necessity to adapt the means of communication and the information to be provided to consumers to take into account the specific characteristics of our product,” he said, stressing that wine is not made following one recipe and that there are changes from one harvest to the other.

He also pointed out that in the wine sector, there is an overwhelming majority of small and very small companies, and in this context, off-label supports “should not be excluded and shall be considered part of the solution”.

Under current EU rules, spirit and beer makers are not obliged to indicate the list of ingredients and the nutrition value of alcohol on the bottle, which is not the case for other foods and drinks.

According to the EU Food information Regulation the executive was expected to adopt by 13 December 2014 a report assessing whether alcoholic beverages should in the future be required to provide information on ingredients and nutritional content.

In addition, a European Parliament resolution urged the Commission to present a report by the end of 2016  exploring the possibility of introducing mandatory labelling.

Commission grants industry additional year to propose alcohol labelling information

Following a two-year delay, the European Commission presented its proposal on alcohol information on Monday (13 March), giving the alcoholic beverages industry an additional year to come up with a “self-regulatory” proposal.

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