The Wall Street Journal Blog (EU) – EU Mulls Booze Warning Labels

  • Post category:World News

Brussels is a battlefield of rule-making; there are always a thousand small skirmishes taking place off-camera, many with an impact on your future and the bottom lines of big companies.

Take alcohol. The European Union is due to revise its strategy on alcohol-related harm in 2012, setting up a fight between the beer, wine and spirits industry and those seeking policies that crack down on drunken driving, addiction, and binge and underage drinking.

They are led by Eurocare, an activist group fighting for tougher policies on alcohol abuse. Eurocare wants ingredients and health warnings printed on beer, wine and spirits, as well as bans on alcohol companies sponsoring events like soccer games.

As is the custom, the EU brings together as many players as it can to contribute feedback and advice to the process.

The European Alcohol and Health Forum, the formal name for meetings of the “stakeholders” in this debate, will meet Nov. 19 in Brussels to discuss policy options, such as tax increases, labeling requirements and distribution restrictions.

The European Spirits Organization, which represents companies like Bacardi Ltd., Diageo Plc. and Pernod Ricard SA, is mounting a pre-emptive campaign. On Nov. 16, it will host a conference titled “A cocktail for responsible growth.”

Like almost all industries, it would like as much self-regulation as possible. What it fears most is harmonized labeling across the EU. For now, only France requires a label warning, against the dangers of drinking while pregnant.

“Every country has a different issue, so EU-wide labeling doesn’t make sense,” says Jamie Fortescue, director general of the organization. It is especially absurd, he adds, to require ingredient lists for products like vodka or whiskey that are made only of water and alcohol in different forms.

Mr. Fortescue argues that countries with monopoly distribution or high alcohol taxes, such as the U.K., Sweden and Finland – are also the ones with the biggest drinking problems.

The alcohol industry says it can little afford more regulation in the EU. Consumption of wine, beer and spirits is down roughly 25% over the last 30 years, across the EU, mostly because Europeans no longer booze as much during lunch hour.

Mr. Fortescue says he’s especially worried about a new effort to warn older people about drinking. “But if you’re worked your whole life, the last thing you want is some busybody telling you you can only have one glass of wine a day.”

Whatever happens, Eurocare sectretary-general Mariann Skar says there’s not much trust that alcohol companies will do what it takes. “We don’t want self-regulation,” she says. “We want regulation.”


Source: The Wall Street Journal Blog (EU), 22.10.10