EU: Liquor Industry Lets Down Consumers (Again)
Europe’s liquor industry declared plans to list the number of calories and ingredients in their products. But the latest move is not nearly enough and has received heavy criticism from public health experts.
Alcoholic beverages have been exempt from EU labeling rules that are in force for all food and non-alcoholic drinks. Instead of regulating the alcohol industry and requiring effective labelling, the European Commission decided to rely on self-regulation allowing the alcohol industry to come up with their own plan to regulate itself.
The European consumers organization BEUC has said that, with Europe facing an obesity crisis, calorie content labeling for alcohol was a necessity.
In March 2018, the sector came up with an initiative to provide more information about energy content and ingredients but critics said at the time that if much of the information was available only online, it was not realistic to expect all consumers to have access to it.
Disappointing attempt at self-regulation
The new announcement of SpiritsEurope proclaims to go further. SpiritsEurope – the lobby front group of the European liquor industry representing national and multinational liquor producers – announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signalling the sector’s commitment “to provide energy information on label together with full ingredient listing and detailed product-specific information online”.
The MoU is endorsed by 31 national organizations and six multinational liquor giants: Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Moet Hennessy, Remy Cointreau, Bacardi-Martini and Beam Suntory. Notably, not even all SpiritsEurope members signed the MoU. Italy’s Campari, Brown-Forman and Edrington did not endorse the MoU.
A 14 month wait for this? A *voluntary*, legally not binding pledge from spirits producers to only put energy on the label while ingredients information to be hidden away from consumers online. No toasts for special treatment of alcoholic drinks #righttoknow https://t.co/AIrvn63a0n
— Emma Calvert (@EmmaCalvert3) June 4, 2019
Labeling should become effective within six months in December 2019 for all new bottles produced.
The non-binding agreement does not cover wine or beer and has received widespread criticism.
Spirits industry afraid of their own ingredients?
The public health community is greatly disappointed about the SpiritsEurope approach to label their products, writes Eurocare, together with the European Public Health Alliance, and a host of other European networks.
In our view, the European spirits industry refrains from informing consumers at the point of sale in an easy and accessible manner.
Instead of following the EU Regulation 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, the spirits industry is granted a non-binding self-regulatory approach providing information about energy on label and information on ingredients and nutritional value online on the responsibledrinking.eu website or via QR codes.
However, in our understanding, the website provides insufficient information.”
A 2017 European Commission report on alcohol labeling shows 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 2017 the European Commission gave alcohol industry one year to present a self-regulatory proposal. The alcohol industry failed and keeps falling short off the task to produce a uniform approach for the whole sector, instead presenting sector specific annexes and delaying complete implementation into the 2020s.
The MoU has a timetable where only one in four bottles in the EU market are set to include energy information on-label by the end of 2020. That is then set to rise to 50% and 66% by the end of 2021 and 2022 respectively. The signatories will work with the Commission to monitor the impact and effectiveness of the initial framework, with two meetings planned per year to review progress made.
The EU’s self-regulatory experiment with alcohol labelling is leading to unsatisfactory outcomes for consumers.
This is not much of a surprise. It confirms existing evidence that governance approaches relying on public private partnerships and voluntary industry commitments fail to deliver consistent results and real added value for public health,” said Fiona Godfrey, Secretary General of European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).
Keeping everything in perspective
According to an analysis of Kalle Dramstad, Head of European Policy at IOGT-NTO in Sweden, the alcohol industry – specifically the liquor makers – are taking the European Commission for a ride.
For example, the website of the liquor industry to provide consumer information is going much further than “just” providing information on calories and ingredients. Currently on responsibledrinking.eu, one of the first things that meets the user is the promotional message: “Enjoy with moderation – in moderation, alcohol can be part of a healthy lifestyle”. In combination with other wordings on health and the effects of alcohol consumption, the website becomes a prime example of how self-regulation doesn’t work and can even be detrimental to the public interest.
There is no healthy amount of alcohol use, according to independent science.
This showcases the failure of the Commission to stand up to vested interests, says Kalle Dramstad.
The Commission issued a much delayed report on the topic in 2017 where they found ‘no objective grounds to justify the current exemption’. The only interpretation I can make of that is that lobbying from the alcohol industry led to the exemption in the first place.
What we are seeing now is that industry is clearly failing to live up to the criteria set out by the Commission report in 2017 and that the European Commission decides not to act as promised. It can best be described as the alcohol industry calling the Commission’s bluff.
It’s also clear that the liquor industry are the ones that got away the easiest.
The Commission states that it does not want the liquor industry’s self-regulatory websites to collect and track any consumer data used to target ads etc. But with the current self-regulatory structure they can only hope that the industry listens to them.”