Health organisations respond to alcohol industry proposals to EU on product labelling

12 March 2018: Last year the European Commission provided the alcohol industry with the opportunity to come up with self-regulatory proposals on alcohol labelling. Health organisations today said that the industry has failed to come up with satisfactory proposals.

Under current EU rules, food and drink companies have to provide ingredient and nutrition information on their products. However, alcohol products are currently exempt from this requirement. The European Commission has been looking at removing this exemption, and last year the Commission gave the alcohol industry a chance to come up with an industry-regulated regime around providing nutrition and ingredient information.

The proposals released today do not include a guarantee that ingredient and nutrition information will appear on alcohol labels. This information will likely appear online instead.

Health bodies across Europe said that this isn’t good enough, saying that few people seek out information online, and that consumers deserve the have the information on product labels.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), said:

‘As in the past, self-regulation of alcohol labelling has not proved possible, with the alcohol industry unwilling to provide consumers with the information on alcohol they need. Alcohol producers are keeping the public in the dark about what’s in their drinks, and the European Commission should now move to make sure alcohol products contain ingredient and nutritional information’.

Annebl Seebohm, Secretary General of the Standing Committee of European Doctors, said:

‘European doctors are convinced that alcohol labels should include nutritional information for health reasons. Consumers have a right to know. Often, they may not realise that many alcoholic beverages contain a lot of sugar. This fact shouldn’t be hidden somewhere online.’

A 2017 European Commission report on alcohol labels said that the majority of consumers ‘never or rarely’ use off-label information sources to access information on nutrition values and ingredients of alcoholic beverages. In addition, consumers consistently voice their desire for ‘on-label’ information, and for there to be no difference between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Mariann Skar, Secretary General of European Alcohol Policy Alliance, said:

It is not enough to tell us to go online and figure it out. Consumers demand transparency and brands they can trust. What do they have to hide? We do not have to go online to find information for milk or orange juice, why should we for wine?

According to the World Health Organization, listing the ingredients contained in a particular beverage alerts the consumer to the presence of any potentially harmful or problematic substance. Equally important, providing the nutritional information such as calorie content allows the consumer to monitor their diets better and makes it easier to keep a healthy and prevent diseases.

Alcohol consumption is the single biggest cause of liver disease in the European Union’, said Professor Helena Cortez Pinto, the EU Counsellor at the European Association for the Study of the Liver. ’It’s ridiculous that a carton of milk has product labelling but not a bottle of spirits. The EU and the Member States have to step up to the plate and take concrete action on labelling or our patients will continue to die early deaths from alcohol related liver disease’.

Liver diseases have an increasing significance in overall morality levels in Bulgaria, being ranked 6th major reason for mortality in 2014. It is important for consumers to be able to monitor their diets better. Listing ingredients and nutritional value on the labels would empower people with information that they are currently lacking. To make healthier choices for our livers we need to know what we are consuming,’ said Prof. Marieta Simonova from the Clinic of Gastroenterology at the Military Medical Academy of Sofia.

Health organisations said that other food sectors have managed to accommodate the EU’s requirements and still maintained their aesthetic packaging standards, meaning that the well-established alcohol industry should have no difficulties in doing the same.

Commenting on the alcohol industry’s position, Eunan McKinney, spokesperson for Alcohol Action Ireland, said:

The proposition from industry that labelling content is onerous and a burden on producers is ludicrous. The sales ambitions of the European alcohol industry, including Ireland’s small or large producers, seem undeterred by fulfilling the labelling demands of other global markets like those in North America, Asia or the Middle East. If the explicit demands for nutritional values and ingredient information can be met for those markets, then why not those of EU citizens too?