Alcohol labelling rules must address key specificities

Spirit drinks are not consumed in the same way and mandatory labelling is unlikely to end binge drinking, writes Pilar Ayuso.

Pilar Ayuso | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Pilar Ayuso

12 Oct 2017

Discussions over whether alcoholic beverages should be exempt from listing ingredients or their nutritional content on their labelling, have been ongoing for a long time. During the negotiations on the food labelling regulation, it was one of the most controversial topics.

In March, the Commission adopted a report on mandatory labelling of the list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration for alcoholic beverages. This decision, along with discussions around reviewing the regulation on spirit drinks, has revived the debate, even though this is not the purpose of the regulation.

The food labelling regulation establishes that it will not be obligatory to indicate the list of ingredients or the nutritional information for beverages with an alcoholic strength by volume greater than 1.2 per cent. 


This is essentially because products containing alcohol are already governed by very rigid and exhaustive legislation and because their consideration as a food product, strictly speaking, is a much-discussed and debatable matter.

In any case, informing the consumer must take place within the framework of the labelling regulation and take into account the specificities of each sector. Given the complexity of the issue, we need to allow for different approaches depending on how each type of beverage is consumed.

What raises more problems is how to label these drinks. There are major differences of opinion regarding whether the information should be shown on the label, or elsewhere, online for example, as is already happening in some sectors. 

Whether labelling must be done for 100 ml or for units of consumption, as consumption habits with regard to spirit drinks are not the same as for wine or beer. In addition, small companies that produce alcoholic beverages on a small scale may find it difficult to meet labelling obligations.

Consuming and producing alcoholic beverages is part of European culture. However, consumption habits in Europe differ greatly from one country to another and, as Parliament specified in its 2015 resolution on an EU alcohol strategy, “It is necessary to distinguish clearly between responsible consumption and harmful consumption of alcohol, and that the first is compatible with a healthy lifestyle”.

I am not against compulsory labelling of alcoholic beverages but I have serious doubts about whether this will alleviate the problem of excessive consumption in some member states and by certain groups. It is a matter of education and conviction rather than labels, and this is not an easy task, although plenty of producer companies are collaborating on the issue with voluntary initiatives. 

Given that we are asking the industry to self-regulate, and bearing in mind the differences between the sectors involved, I think the Commission should provide them with guidelines to be able to do so.


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