The Trimbos Institute has conducted a research into a mandatory provision of product and health warnings about the risks of alcohol on labels of alcoholic beverages (in short: alcohol labeling) for the Netherlands.
The Ministry of Public Health wanted to find out about the possibility of mandatory labeling of alcoholic beverages in the Netherlands. To that end, the findings in the Trimbos Institute report were presented to the Second Chamber of the Parliament.
The research shows that labeling could raise awareness about alcohol harms and thus reduce alcohol harm in the country.
Currently the European Union does not have a mandatory provision for health warning labeling on alcohol products. However, the EU gives governments of member countries the opportunity to make alcohol labeling compulsory if they wish to do so. Out of the 27 EU states, Ireland is the only country with mandatory alcohol labeling.
In Netherlands alcohol labeling is self-regulated by the alcohol industry. But self-regulation is failing to protect consumers.
- The Dutch alcohol industry’s alcohol labeling mentioning of product information as well as health information and warnings is applied too little and selectively;
- The number of calories is hardly mentioned on labels; and
- If a health warning is mentioned, it’s too small a picture, such as the ‘Do not use alcohol during pregnancy’ icon, while alcohol use carries many more risks that consumers can be informed about, such as ‘Alcohol can cause cancer’.
International research has shown that alcohol industry self-regulation in the field of labeling is not effective. For this reason, the WHO recommends in its global strategy to include product information as well as health information and warnings on alcoholic beverage labels in order to reduce alcohol use.
Research shows that including health information and warnings on alcoholic beverage labels
- leads to greater consumer awareness of the harmfulness of alcohol;
- increases the intention to reduce alcohol use; and
- reduces alcohol consumption.
Alcohol labeling can therefore contribute to achieving the objectives set out in the “National Prevention Agreement on Problematic Alcohol Use of Netherlands”.
Consumers have a right to know what is in a product and the risks entailed. Experts in the field of alcohol policy, consumer behavior, health law and nutrition emphasize the importance of compulsory alcohol labeling as it is a consumer right.
A recent study published in the Journal Addiction found that enhanced alcohol labeling improved knowledge about low-risk alcohol use guidelines in the United Kingdom.
A series of journal articles published on the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs (Volume 81, Issue 2) in March supports that when alcohol bottles come with conspicuous labels providing information on the risks of alcohol consumption or alcohol use guidelines, people are better informed about alcohol’s harms and may cut down their alcohol use.
There are positive examples in other sectors which introduced product labeling. For instance, including product information (ingredients and nutritional value) on foods has led people to change their eating behavior, for example by choosing healthier products. Evidence shows that health warnings on tobacco product labels has been effective in raising awareness about the harms of smoking and reducing smoking behavior.