EU: No drastic warnings on wine

The wine industry in Europe and elsewhere is breathing a sigh of relief. The original call for ‘additional health warnings’ on labels has been softened.

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EU on Alcohol advertising (photo: Oliver Boehmer/AdobeStock)
EU on Alcohol advertising (photo: Oliver Boehmer/AdobeStock)

Proposal of the Special Committee "BEating Cancer"

In December, a special committee called BECA (‘BEating Cancer’) submitted a report to the European Commission including the statement that, according to the WHO and various studies, ‘there is no harmless consumption of alcohol when it comes to preventing cancer’, and the recommendation that clear health warnings should be introduced on labels.At a stroke, all of the work on recommended maximum daily units that has been carried out across the world would be redundant

Last week, as the proposal became due for discussion in the European Parliament, much of the wine media prematurely reacted with panic headlines as though this was a battle that had already been lost.

Discussions in the EU Parliament about health warnings

In the event, when it came to the debate and vote, the members of the parliament were faced with a set of amendments, in particular from MEPs, Dolors Montserrat (Catalonia) and Herbert Dorfmann (South Tyrol), who both come from wine regions and represent the conservative EPP. These were passed by a huge majority, of 666 votes in favour, 20 against and 6 abstentions.

The original call for ‘additional health warnings’ on labels became ‘information on moderate and responsible alcohol consumption’. Where the original text, had referred to ‘alcohol consumption’ the final one talked about ‘harmful alcohol consumption.

There will be no warning that ‘alcohol is deadly’ of the kind that has been required for cigarette packets. Instead, the new wording says ‘it is safest not to consume alcohol at all if cancer is to be prevented’. 

The introduction of this mandatory messaging will be accompanied by other changes in European alcohol legislation. Mandatory provision of nutrition and ingredient listing are almost inevitable, but it is not yet clear whether this will have to be on labels/back labels or online via QR codes.

Less advertising, more taxes?

A proposed blanket ban on sports sponsorship by alcohol brands – of the kind that has already been introduced by countries such as France - was watered down to focus on sports and events that ‘mainly’ involve minors. There will also be restrictions on product placement and online marketing aimed at the young. 

Of course, this leaves room for speculation as to how precisely the future advertising guidelines will be drawn up. 

The threat of tax increases has also not gone away. As part of the fight against cancer, MEPs recommend revising ‘EU legislation on alcohol taxation’ and envisage, ‘including consideration of increasing taxes on alcoholic beverages’.

Cautious welcome

The association of European wine regions, AREV, is pleased with the outcome of the vote: Its president Emiliano García-Page commented that "today is a great day for the ‘great product and culture’ that the wine industry represents in Europe”. Despite this reaction, there is no question that the wine industry is going to have to adapt to a very different legislator environment.

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