Warning labeling of alcoholic beverages passed in Ireland has sparked outcry and protests from LOBBY of the sector, Big alcohol. All is silent, however, on the commitment made by the European Commission to provide by 2022 also for drinks containing more than 1,2% alcohol, the indication of ingredients, calories and nutritional table. A goal that cannot be postponed, according to the coalition of civil society organizations, which in an open letter urges President von der Leyen.
Labeling of alcoholic beverages, Ireland leads by example
The Irish Government on 22 May 2023 it approved the obligation to label alcoholic beverages with an indication of the calorie content and grams of alcohol contained in the product. (1)
The label it must also include warnings on the risk of consuming alcohol during pregnancy (already in force in France) and the increased likelihood of contracting liver disease and cancer as a result of alcohol consumption. The same information must be offered to consumers in public establishments that sell alcohol by the glass.
The new measures will be in force in three years, from 22 May 2026.
The reasons for the new measures
The need to impose warnings on the population on the risks related to the consumption of alcohol seemed inevitable in the light of the outcome of the survey HealthyIreland.
The survey it is conducted each year on a nationally representative sample of over 7.000 respondents. The responses received show that many Irish people (especially in the 15-24 age group) are unaware of the risk of health damage from alcohol consumption:
- 7% of the sample consider it safe to consume alcohol during pregnancy, while 9% do not know if it has harmful effects,
- 79% do not know that drinking alcohol above the recommended limits increases the risk of breast cancer,
- 60% do not know the correlation with the risk of bowel cancer
- 52% are unaware of the increased incidence of gastric ulcers in alcohol users,
- 49% do not know that alcohol promotes hypertension.
The urgency of labeling alcoholic beverages in the EU
The urgency to introduce labeling of alcoholic beverages is being reminded of the European Commission by a large coalition of organizations (including ETS equality) engaged in public health, medical and scientific societies and patient groups.
In an open letter, civil society reaffirms its position with regard to the legislative proposal on the matter, in the context of the revision of EU regulation no. 1169/2011 on food information to consumers (FIC, Food Information to Consumers). (2)
Alcohol is the causative factor in over 200 diseases and conditions and has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a Group 1 human carcinogen since 1988. In terms of cancer prevention, evidence suggests that no there is an amount that can be considered safe for consumption. In the WHO European Region, half of all alcohol-attributable cancers are actually caused by 'light' or 'moderate' patterns of use.
Customers are still deprived of the right to receive basic nutritional information on alcohol. In fact, alcoholic beverages with an alcohol content higher than 1,2% by volume do not currently carry any information on the label on the energy value (expressed in kcal/KJ), on the complete nutritional declaration and on the list of ingredients.
The Commission has already acknowledged the absence of an objective justification for this exemption, in a belated 2017 report to the European Parliament and the Council. And yet it is 9 years late with respect to the tasks entrusted to it, as seen.
Labels not digital codes
All organizations dealing with public health, academia and research institutes, as well as consumer organizations, already signatories to the Oslo declaration, ask for the information to be included on the label, while alcohol producers insist on a solution off-label medical prescription, through a QR code that refers the user to a site websites.
The hypothesis it is clearly unsuitable to inform the population and could further widen health inequalities. The results of Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) of 2021, in fact, show that 44% of people in the EU lack basic digital skills. Also, not all European citizens own one smartphone, nor is the good network coverage necessary for always guaranteed 'open' the QR code in stores.
The appeal to the European Commission
The letter of the coalition ends with an explicit invitation to the European Commission a
- respect consumers' right to information by publishing as soon as possible a proposal for mandatory labeling of the energy value, complete nutrition declaration and list of ingredients for all alcoholic beverages (wines, beers and spirits),
- ensure that basic nutritional information is available on the label, so that consumers can easily access it at any time and without the need for additional tools and skills.
(1) Ministers for Health bring into law the world's first comprehensive health labeling of alcohol products. Government of Ireland. Department of Health, press release. 22.5.23 https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/03997-ministers-for-health-bring-into-law-the-worlds-first-comprehensive-health-labelling-of-alcohol-products/#
(2) Civil society alliance calls for labeling solutions which respond to European citizens' right to information: ON label. 19.5.23 Letter to President of the European Commission – Alcohol labeling May 2023
Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".