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.
The European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare) told EURACTIV.com 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.
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”.