The new strategy should include plans for labelling the calorie content of alcoholic beverages, the European Parliament said in a resolution adopted on Wednesday (29 April).
The European Commission should “immediately begin work” on the EU’s next alcohol strategy for 2016-2022, the Parliament said in the resolution.
The EU’s latest strategy to tackle alcohol-related abuse expired in 2013, after seven years in use, and was not replaced by a new one.
While it did not impose specific legislation, the strategy provided guidance to EU member states in preventing harmful and hazardous drinking, by tackling areas such as drunk driving, alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and underage drinking.
Now, MEPs are losing their patience with the Commission, saying the new strategy should include plans for labelling the calorie content of alcoholic beverages. The executive should submit a legislative proposal to this end in 2016 at the latest, they add.
Alcohol was left out of new EU rules on food and drinks labelling – the Food Information to Consumers Regulation – which entered into force on 13 December, 2014.
A report on how to include alcoholic beverages in the regulation was supposed to have been published by the Commission last December, but the EU executive now expects it to be published by the end of this year.
This has frustrated the European beer sector, which wants the nutrition labelling rules applied across the board, and announced an industry-wide commitment to progressively provide ingredients and nutrition information on their products.
Alcohol poses a major risk to public health, MEPs said in the resolution, noting that the direct and indirect social cost of alcohol abuse in Europe in 2010 alone is estimated at €155.8 billion. They called on the new strategy to include the collection of “reliable scientific data” to improve the prevention and treatment of alcohol-related harm.
Member states should also consider measures against the sale of very cheap alcohol, they added, including cross-border sales of alcohol via the internet.
British MEP Glenis Willmott, a British MEP from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, is the author of the resolution.
“The evidence is clear that drinking during pregnancy harms the unborn child and the Commission needs to do more to ensure people are aware of this by introducing warning labels on all alcoholic drinks,” Willmott wrote in a blog post, recalling that alcohol is linked to over 60 chronic illnesses including cancer, liver disease and heart disease.
“The European Parliament has made it clear that we want the Commission to make tackling alcohol-related abuse a priority. We’ve sent a strong message to the Commission today, and I hope they’ll listen and finally come forward with a new Strategy to set out how this will be done,” the MEP continued.
The beer industry has likewise called for the EU to put the alcohol strategy on the agenda, drawing praise from both the executive, and consumer organisations, for its self-regulation move on labelling.
The first EU alcohol strategy was launched in 2006 and expired in 2013. Earlier this month, a spokesperson from the Commission told EURACTIV that “As part of the process, we need to consider how alcohol-related harm can fit into a more holistic approach to support sustainable health systems and reduce the burden of chronic diseases.”