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Curious case of #alcohol labelling in the EU

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European case of alcohol labelling is a good example of the results of industry lobby and effects of vested interests. An example where a logical decision is avoided and postponed without any serious explanation. It should be a wake-up call for both European Parliament and Commission to highlight alcohol policy and understand that without decisions, things are not moving along, writes Lauri Beekmann.

(Editor's note: - This article was first published in an anti-alcohol, temperance blog by Lauri Beekmann on 27 March. Beekmann is the Director of NordAN, the stated aim of which is "to promote restrictive alcohol and drug policies in the Nordic and Baltic countries".)

Public health community was happy to welcome European Commissions report on mandatory labelling of the list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration of alcoholic beverages“ published earlier in March. Led by European Alcohol Policy Alliance Eurocare, public health NGO-s have systematically drawn Commissions attention to the fact that alcoholic beverages are exempted from the mandatory list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration.

While milk, lemonade and yoghurt have an obligation to list the ingredients, alcohol is an exception? As the report cites members states experts confusion, there is no justification why a soft drink should provide a nutrition declaration when the same soft drink mixed with a spirit would be exempted from such declaration.“

Report came to a conclusion that the Commission has not identified objective grounds that would justify the absence of information on ingredients and nutrition information on alcoholic beverages, and that the industry should present within a year a self-regulatory proposal that would cover the entire sector of alcoholic beverages. And if the Commission is not satisfied with this proposal it will launch an impact assessment to review further available options“.

So there is a clear progress but let´s look into the history of the whole topic. Citing the same report again:

Regarding the list of ingredients, the issue goes back to the first general labelling legislation adopted at EU level, where it was provided that 'in the case of beverages containing more than 1,2% by volume of alcohol, the Council, acting on a proposal from the Commission, shall, before 22 December 1982, determine the rules for labelling ingredients'. The Commission presented proposals to address this request in 1982 and in 1992 but the Council could not agree on any of those proposals. The Commission then presented a new proposal in February 1997, which was finally put on the agenda of a Council Working Group in December 2002. Subsequent to these discussions, although the specific EU requirements for labelling ingredients, which may cause allergies or intolerances, covered also alcoholic beverages, no rules were introduced for the labelling of ingredients in general of alcoholic beverages.“

The 2011, Regulation maintains the mandatory list of ingredients and introduces mandatory nutrition declaration (energy value and the amounts of fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt) as from 16 December 2016. Alcoholic beverages are not covered by these provisions.“

As it appears the process started at least in 1982 and since then various working groups have repeatedly decided that alcohol is different compared to other foods and that alcohol industry should be freed from these responsibilities. It is difficult to imagine that this proposal - Let´s make an exception for alcohol “- came without alcohol industry´s pressure." And it has survived the last 35 years.

It is true that alcohol producers have started different self-regulatory initiatives which includes also labelling. But that has´nt always been their position. Which is confirmed also by the report itself: The industry position on the matter has recently evolved significantly. Whereas in the past food business operators were opposed to any additional labelling requirement, today the majority of sectors acknowledge that consumers have the right to know about the content of their drinks.“

Where did that enlightenment came from? It is easy to be skeptical that they would do it without any external pressure. European Commission should remove the blindfolds and realize that alcohol industry has found their integrity and responsibility in parallel with some major global developments that are introducing or at least paving the road for stronger alcohol regulations. In 2006 European Union adopted its first ever alcohol strategy, four years later, in 2010, WHO its first ever global alcohol strategy. It is logical to conclude that we are witnessing similar developments that befell on tobacco industry. If alcohol industry would keep on opposing everything they could surely be removed from the table. As it happened to their colleagues at the tobacco side. Instead they are active in proposing several self regulation initiatives claiming that they are responsible enough and don´t need any statutory regulations. Main motive of it all seems to be prolonging the process and postponing the decisions made by governments and European Commission. To recap, they opposed to any labelling as long as the Commission was agreeing with them and as soon as the overall feeling started to change, they revised their ethics and proposed self regulation as a way forward.

Well, but perhaps labelling would just be ineffective? The report refers to a Commission-mandated study according to which almost half (49%) of the participants wanted information on the energy value of alcoholic beverages, and 16% declared their intention to reduce their alcohol consumption on the basis of this information.

But even if mandatory labelling would be rather ineffective in changing people´s behavior, it´s actually not the main point. It is chiefly a matter of consumer rights. People have the right to know what´s in their drink and what this drink could do to their bodies. For 35 years politicians and officials, influenced by alcohol industry, have decided that these rights are not important.

European Commission should guarantee now that this will not just be another chapter in this curious case that started in 1982.

Alcohol

Commission publishes public consultation on the taxation of cross-border alcohol and tobacco purchases in the EU

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Commission has launched a public consultation on the taxation of cross-border alcohol and tobacco purchases in the EU. Under current rules, excise duty on alcohol and tobacco bought by a private individual for their own use and transported to another EU country is only paid in the country where the goods were bought. This is the case even if they bring these goods into another member state.

For both alcohol and tobacco products, the misuse of cross-border shopping rules for private individuals is a source of concern for several EU countries due to lost revenues and the negative impact on the effectiveness of national public health policies. The current EU rules of cross-border shopping of alcohol beverages and tobacco products by private individuals are being reviewed to ensure that they remain fit for purpose to balance the objectives of public revenues and health protection.

This is particularly important in the context of the European Action Plan against Cancer since taxation plays a pivotal role in reducing alcohol and tobacco consumption, in particular when it comes to acting as a deterrent to stop young people from smoking and abusing alcohol. The public consultation aims to ensure that all relevant stakeholders have an opportunity to express their views on the current rules and how they might work in the future. It includes questions on the effects of the current system, along with possible changes. The public consultation is available here and remains open until 23 April 2021.

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Alcohol

Excise duties: Commission welcomes agreement on rules governing alcohol

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Commission has welcomed the 30 July agreement reached in the Council on the new rules governing excise duties on alcohol within the EU. This agreement paves the way for a better business environment and reduced costs for small alcohol-producing businesses. The agreed new rules will ensure that small and artisan alcohol producers have access to a new EU-wide certification system confirming their access to lower excise duty rates across the Union.

This will have a positive impact on consumers, which will benefit from a crackdown on the illegal use of tax-free denatured alcohol to make counterfeit drinks. There will also be an increase in the threshold for lower strength beer to which reduced rates may apply to encourage brewers to produce beverages with a lower alcohol content.

Following the agreement, Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: "Today's agreement is a welcome move towards a more modern and fairer tax regime for alcohol which also supports our fight against fraud.”

New rules will be applicable from 1 January 2022. The Commission will monitor the introduction of an excise duty or reduced excise rates for private production of ethyl alcohol and will report to the Council on this measure.

A full press release is available here

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Alcohol

#spiritsEurope launches interactive map of spirits with geographical indications (GIs)

EU Reporter Correspondent

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A new interactive map geolocating all of Europe’s 240 GI spirits has been launched, showing the great diversity, rich cultural heritage, and economic importance of these products for communities all across Europe.

Launching the map, spiritsEUROPE Director General Ulrich Adam said: “The map shows where exactly in Europe the 240 different GI spirits are from. Products like Cognac, Irish Whiskey and Polish Vodka are among our most well-known, yet the list is so much longer! For the first time today, we are – quite literally – putting all of these GI spirits on the map. I invite you to explore this exciting new tool, and to discover more about the different regions and passionate people producing this extraordinarily wide range of quality spirits.”

European spirits with protections known as Geographical Indications (GIs) are both popular at home and hugely appreciated worldwide: domestic sales amounted to more than €10 billion in 2017, while GI spirits made up two thirds of total European spirits exports worth €12.5bn last year.  As such, the economic contribution of GI spirits to local communities is substantial, and never more so as Europe begins to re-open from lockdowns.

Organization for an International Geographical Indications Network (oriGIn) EU Representative Mathilde Chareyron said: “This is a great way to visualize the cultural, economic and social importance of Geographical Indications in the European Union. It will allow citizens to better understand the success of the EU’s GI policy and the key contribution that GIs make to local development. This is a valuable addition to the work of OriGIn in ensuring better protection and promotion of geographical indications.”

A study published by the European Commission in April of this year found that spirits with geographical indications sell for over two and a half times more than products without the protection, underlining the high quality and reputation that consumers attach to GI products.

Another important way in which spirits, and GI spirits in particular, contribute to local development is spirits tourism. From family-owned micro-distilleries to some of the world’s biggest and best-known brands, distilleries across Europe attract millions of visitors every year from across the globe. In 2019, two million people visited Scotch Whisky distilleries, almost two million tourists visited French distilleries, while Irish distilleries welcomed more than one million visitors.

Calling for support for Europe’s distillers, Ulrich Adam added: “Distillers across Europe can and will play their part in driving the European recovery after the devasting pandemic, but they need support. We need the European Commission to continue to champion the protection of GIs in trade discussions. With promotion and the right supports, distillers will once again drive exports and create jobs and growth in Europe”.

Spirits GIs Map

·        spiritsEUROPE proudly represents one of Europe’s most valuable agri-food export sectors and, with it, the interests of 31 associations of spirits producers as well as 10 leading multinational companies. More information can be found here.

·        oriGIn - The Organization for an International Geographical Indications Network - oriGIn - is a non-for-profit Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) based in Geneva. Established in 2003, origin is today a truly global alliance of Geographical Indications (GIs) from a large variety of sectors, representing some 500 associations of producers and other GI-related institutions from 40 countries.

·        EU database of GIs registered in Europe: the e-ambrosia database

·        List and description of the spirit drinks categories.

·        Study on economic value of EU quality schemes, geographical indications (GIs) and traditional specialities guaranteed (TSGs) – April 2020. Available here.

·        More information on spirits tourism is available here.

 

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