The wine industry is pushing for the inclusion of its products’ labelling proposals in the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in order to give self-regulation a “legal basis and certainty”.
Ignacio Sánchez Recarte, the secretary general of the EU wine association (CEEV), told EURACTIV.com that because of the composition of the wine sector and the characteristics of its products, there is a need to have an adaptive solution communicating this information to consumers.
“We believe that we have an opportunity with the CAP reform. It’s in front of us and a perfectly legal vehicle and can focus on wine,” Recarte said, adding this would give self-regulation a legal basis and certainty as well as recognition of an adaptive solution.
“For legal certainty, thousands of our companies will prefer to have a regulation that ensures the basis of this adaptive communication,” Recarte noted, underlining that several EU member states are open to this discussion.
He made clear, though, that the wine sector is not asking for regulation for the other alcohol industries.
Last March, the alcohol industry presented its much-awaited self-regulatory proposal on labelling. The main feature of the proposal was the flexibility among the different alcohol sectors.
According to the proposal, alcohol makers will be free to decide whether to place information on the label, online or both.
There is a common part accompanied by four sectorial annexes that 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 online means only.
However, EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis told EURACTIV earlier this month (5 June) that the executive was “not satisfied with the proposal”.
“Our path is clear and we are doing the legal assessment [of the proposal]. At first sight, I am not satisfied with the proposal because it is not consistent and does not address some issues related to information for consumers: consumers should be fully informed. But we need to see what our lawyers will say first,” Andriukaitis said.
The need for binding EU-wide rules on alcohol labelling has been pushed for a long time by public health NGOs. They say the industry’s insistence on online labelling and a self-regulatory approach cannot meet the rising needs for nutritional information among consumers.
“The industry is granting itself too much flexibility to decide how much information consumers can see. As consumers make shopping decisions in a matter of seconds, it is unrealistic to expect they will take a few minutes to check online how calorific wine or vodka is,” the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) has said, adding that more than three out 10 consumers do not own a smartphone.
Spirits ask for Commission’s political support
Ulrich Adam, director of SpiritsEurope, said that as part of the self-regulatory plans presented on 12 March, companies within the spirits sector have made far-reaching commitments in terms of providing relevant information online and on-label.
“We’re now in the process of implementing these commitments. To do so in the fastest and best manner possible, the political support of the European Commission for the 12 March proposals would be a very helpful step,” he noted.
Asked how his industry views the possibility of a Commission-led legislation, he replied: “It will be of fundamental importance to ensure that rules are properly adapted to the specificities of the alcoholic beverages sector since, in the case of spirits for instance, mandatory 100ml labelling is – and will remain – inappropriate, misleading, and unhelpful.”
The spirits industry says that caloric information should be provided “per glass” and not per 100ml, which is the legal measurement currently in force for all drinks across Europe.
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 in 30ml servings.
But brewers do not share the same view. Pierre-Olivier Bergeron, secretary-general of the Brewers of Europe, told EURACTIV in March that the joint platform refers explicitly to 100ml.
“There are sensitivities in different sectors but there is a joint agreement which is laid down that 100ml is the reference as it’s provided in the regulation on the provision of food information to consumers. When it comes to implementation, we might see different approaches.”
Bergeron insisted that the alcohol industry should stick to the legislation.
“We have always been strong proponents of the simplest approach that would be helpful for the consumers,” he said, adding: “100ml is legal and an appropriate proportion size.”