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Calls to investigate Ireland’s alcohol labelling rules

Trade association Spirits Europe is asking the European Commission to investigate proposed alcohol labelling rules in Ireland for allegedly breaching EU law.

Spirits Europe
The new rules would make it ‘complex’ for non-Irish producers to sell their products to Irish consumers

Ireland has proposed introducing additional labelling information for alcoholic beverages, such as health warnings.

The new measures also extend to wine, which has received backlash from the category’s producers who said the “stark” health warning labels conflate moderate drinking with liver disease and cancer.

Spirits Europe and The Comité Européen des Enterprises Vins (CEEV) both filed complaints today (16 May) to request that the European Commission opens an infringement procedure against Ireland’s controversial plans for new alcohol labelling legislation.

Spirits Europe said the draft regulation represents a ‘disproportionate trade barrier hampering the free movement of goods’.

In practice, the trade body argues this would prevent economic operators from selling alcoholic beverages legally sold in all other EU member states in Ireland, unless the products were re-labelled with additional information.

This additional information would include grams of alcohol and the number of calories, as well as health warnings.

Spirts Europe said this would make it ‘considerably more complex’ and ‘more expensive’ for non-Irish producers and distributors from within and outside of the EU to make their products available to Irish consumers.

Ulrich Adam, director general of Spirits Europe, said: “For good reasons, the right to restrict the freedom of movement of goods in the single market is subject to strict rules: trade barriers must be justified and proportionate, meaning that no other options, less restrictive of the trade between member states are available to Ireland.

“We believe Ireland has failed to demonstrate the admissibility of their measures on both these criteria.”

Plans ‘should be paused’

The planned restrictions would ‘undermine the integrity and functioning’ of the EU’s single market, said Spirits Europe, as well as hamper trade with third countries.

Adam continued: “In addition, the Commission is bound to present new, harmonised labelling rules for alcoholic beverages soon. In such a situation, common practice has it that plans for deviating national rules should be paused.

“We fully acknowledge and respect Ireland’s right to take action to ensure a high level of protection of the public health of its citizens. Numerous meaningful, proportionate, and evidence-based public health measures to help reduce alcohol-related harm are available.

“However, it would appear that Ireland conducted an insufficient analysis of the proportionality of their particular policy choices on labelling, as other suitable, yet less restrictive options to trade clearly exist.”

Spirits Europe is an organisation that represents the interests of the spirits sector from 31 national associations and eight leading multinational companies.

Ireland’s evidence ‘inaccessible’ to public

In addition, Spirits Europe said the evidence submitted by Ireland to the European Commission to ‘justify its measures’ has remained ‘inaccessible’ to the public.

Adam added: “We believe the public has a right to know which evidence has been collected and examined by Ireland and the European Commission to consider the planned measures justified and proportionate. In the interest of transparency and better law making, we believe the assessment should be made accessible to the public in full.”

In December 2022, a proposal for a Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) was welcomed by Spirits Europe.

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