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What is really in your drink?

Eurocare welcomes the European Commission's report recognising a need for better alcohol labelling. But does it go far enough?

18 April 2017 – The European Alcohol Policy Alliance strongly believes that it is the right of consumers to be allowed to make informed and easily comparable choices about the products they purchase. But, it is regrettable that some sectors of the alcohol industry choose to keep consumers in the dark, even though public health experts and consumer organisations are calling for a change; such as the introduction of ingredients and nutritional value (i.e. calories) on labels of alcoholic drinks.

Europe is the world’s heaviest drinking region, with some European countries ranking around twice the global average. For consumers to make a truly informed choice all alcoholic beverages should have nutritional information per 100ml, as outlined in EU’s Regulation No 1169/2011.

The European Commission has published its long-awaited report on alcohol labelling; it is thanks to European Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis and his persistence that consumers might soon be better informed about the contents in their alcoholic beverages.

We, as the European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare) welcome the publication of the report as it clearly recognises the need for better alcohol labelling. Disappointingly, the conclusions only ask for a self-regulatory proposal from the industry. Self-regulation is not a suitable regulatory mechanism. Member States in the European Council should follow up and empower the European Commission to take regulatory actions.

The burden of finding nutritional values and ingredient listings should not be placed on the consumers. By asking them to go online and find out for themselves. Labels remain the best option to inform consumers, at the point of sale, about nutritional value and ingredients.

Listing ingredients contained in a beverage alerts the consumers to the presence of any potentially harmful or problematic substances. Providing nutritional information such as energy content allows consumers to monitor their diets better, and makes it easier for them to keep a healthy lifestyle.

Labels need to be regarded as an opportunity for impact over time, rather than setting an expectation that they will affect immediate behavioural changes.

To date, European legislation has failed to allow consumers to make an informed choice about the alcoholic products they purchase. We hope that the publication of last week’s report will be the first step to align alcohol with other food products.

In 2015 Eurocare conducted a consumer survey which found that only 25% of respondents searched for information online, regarding ingredients or additives in their alcoholic beverages Around 50% of respondents indicated they would like to have more information about ingredient listings, with 43% asking for calorie content and 38% for nutritional value. Overall labelling information currently provided to consumers is simply not sufficient.

We continue to closely monitor the industry’s voluntary actions.

Written by Mariann Skar, director general of Eurocare, The European Alcohol Policy Alliance. Cross-posted from the Eurocare website.

All IAS Blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.