Europe’s previous alcohol strategy expired in 2013 and has not yet been replaced, while drinks containing more than 1.2% alcohol by volume were exempt from the food labelling laws which came into force last December.
MEPs, grown impatient with the Commission’s inaction, voted through the Alcohol Strategy resolution with a show of hands urging the Commission to immediately begin work on the resolution and to table it by 2016 at the latest.
The resolution called for the strategy to assist national governments in dealing with alcohol-related harm through two main axes – the first on ingredient information and calorie content on labels and the second on protecting young people.
Main articles of the resolution:
- Mandatory calorie content labelling on alcoholic beverages
- Nutritional information and ingredients listings
- Label warnings against drink-driving, and driving when pregnant.
- Raising the minimum age to at least 18 years
- National authorities should consider measures to prevent sale of very cheap alcohol
- EC should address cross-border sale of alcohol online
- Member states should lead campaigns to raise awareness of binge drinking
‘Shame’ the Commission into action
The vote was welcomed by various groups across Europe.
The European Public Health Alliance said: “Today’s resolution – coupled with the strong view of EU Health Ministers - is a wake-up call to the European Commission to move ahead urgently with a new EU Alcohol Strategy and measures to urgently reduce the severity, scope and huge cost imposed by alcohol-related diseases across Europe, which claim 120,000 lives every year in the EU.”
Meanwhile EPHA secretary general, Nina Renshaw said that the resolution should shame the Commission into action on alcohol.
Mariann Skar, secretary general of Eurocare, said that the lack of a decisive alcohol strategy was undermining Europe’s efforts for jobs and growth, and called on the Commission to respond.
“Prevention of alcohol related harm is a smart investment for the economy, it cuts long-term healthcare expenditures and at the same time raises workforce productivity,” she said.
Monique Goyens, director general of European consumer rights group BEUC, said: “The European Parliament have shown they are listening to consumers. If we are to truly tackle Europe’s rising obesity epidemic, calorie content labelling on alcoholic drinks is a sheer must.
“(…) The paradox of alcohol being exempted from calorie and ingredient labelling that is mandatory for soft drinks, is unjustifiable. MEPs should be applauded for urging the Commission to rise to the task.”
Paul Skehan, director general of spiritsEUROPE, also welcomed the proposal.
“We support the MEPs’ calls for better research, for better collection of data and for sharing evidence. In particular, the spirits sector applauds the Parliamentarians’ call for appropriate strategies to tackle the problem of alcohol counterfeiting as well as illegal and black market sales of alcohol.”
But SpiritsEurope has previously said that the spirits industry would be unfairly hit if the Commission legislates on nutrition information per 100 ml servings - spirits are served in 30 ml servings - meaning that calorie information could be misleading.
Meanwhile Brewers of Europe has pre-empted the Commission’s work by pledging to provide voluntary nutritional information and ingredients listings on beer per 100ml, allowing consumers to make like-for-like comparisons in calorie content between drinks. The pledge has been backed by major brewers Heineken, Carlsberg, SAB Miller, and AB InBev.
Misuse of alcohol is the second largest lifestyle-related cause of disease in some member states, while worldwide it causes 3.3 million premature deaths each year.
According to Awareness Week on Alcohol Related Harm (AWARH) which will take place in November this year, one in four road fatalities in Europe are due to alcohol while around 12 million Europeans are alcohol-dependent.