Updates with SpiritsEurope comment
If EU legislators decide to move away from self-regulation in the area of alcohol labelling, the legislation should respect the EU Food Information to Consumers Regulation, Pierre-Olivier Bergeron, the secretary-general of the Brewers of Europe told EURACTIV.com in an interview.
“I’ve been very clear on this. If the EU legislators change their minds – which for the time being doesn’t seem to be the case, but who knows – there are conditions that need to be met and they are written down in the EU Food Information to Consumers Regulation (regulation 1169),” Bergeron emphasised.
“You cannot create a situation in which, because you’re going legal, you end up discriminating amongst the drink categories. That would be a very peculiar approach,” he added.
Currently, labelling of alcohol beverages is enjoying a self-regulation regime.
Following a European Commission request, the EU alcohol industry came up with a proposal about labelling of alcohol beverages, which in practice stipulates that alcohol makers will have the freedom to decide whether to place information on the label, online or both.
EU Commissioner for Health Vytenis Andriukaitis was not satisfied with the industry’s proposal and an EU spokesperson recently told EURACTIV that the executive’s legal services have found “legal issues” with it.
However, it is not yet clear what is going to happen next as the Commission is keeping its cards close to the chest.
Andriukaitis said the proposal was not exactly the same from one sector to another. “We will be assessing how to move forward and what our next steps are. Our interest is to make sure that consumers are informed.”
Public health NGOs insist that legislation should be put in place and the preferential regime for the alcohol industry abolished.
EU winemakers also see potential legislation in a positive light. The push for their wine labelling to be included in the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Bergeron stressed that Andriukaitis, some EU lawmakers and consumer organisations were satisfied with the brewers’ proposal because the on-label solution was prioritised.
“You might remember that I met the Commissioner in February, who said, ‘Yes, you’re doing the right thing’. Why did he say that? Because we are implementing regulation 1169 from A to Z. We’re not deriving from any provision of the regulation.”
“In July, we told our members that our focus should be on-label. We say this because it is the reality of the market. By the end of the year, 3 out of 4 beers will be labelling ingredients, and 1 out of 2 beers will be labelling calories information,” he added.
Another reason why brewers insist on the respect of the EU Food Information to Consumers Regulation is the legal calorie measurement on the label, which is a permanent fight with the spirits industry.
The spirits industry says that information on calories contained in alcoholic beverages should be provided “per glass” and not per 100ml, which the EU Food Information to Consumers Regulation provides as a reference.
The brewers insist that the regulation is clear for everybody.
“We’ve always said that according to the Regulation 1169, if you want to complement the 100ml reference by some portion information, just do it. And it’s what a number of brewers do. On a number of brewers’ label, you have the 100ml column and the exact portion. For us it’s a non-issue,” the EU beer boss commented.
‘I understand NGOs’
Consumer organisations oppose some industries’ focus on online labelling, saying that it’s a trick to hide nutrition information from consumers.
They also refer to surveys suggesting that a large number of consumers do not have access to the Internet and, therefore, will be deprived of crucial health information.
“Online labelling is potentially complementary. There is no reason why online should be not part of the package, but what we are saying loud and clear is that label should be the focus. To a certain extent, I tend to agree with the concerns expressed by NGOs and civil society. I understand that,” Bergeron emphasised.
Gerardo Fortuna contributed to this article
Following this article's publication, the spirits industry (spiritsEUROPE) commented, "We do understand and accept the legal obligation to label information on calories per 100ml, even if it is inappropriate and potentially misleading in the case of spirits. This is why we believe all alcoholic beverages should be obliged to label calories both per 100ml and per portion. It’s the only way we can ensure consumers can actually make realistic comparative assessments on typical calorie intake values between the different categories."