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The future of alcohol labels?

The European alcohol industry has long upheld a privilege to conceal what is inside the drinks it produces. All EU-made foods – except for alcoholic beverages – are obliged to inform consumers about ingredients and nutritional content on the packaging. That exemption draws to an end.

On 12 March 2018, consumers and politicians are awaiting the industry’s self-regulatory proposal on information to consumers about drink contents. Brussels hearsay suggests the industry will propose to put the information off-label, online, through the somewhat quaint technology of a QR code (QR codes are those square, black-and-white symbols that resemble bar codes). We have to assume they mean ‘all information’.

If the wine industry adopts plain packaging by putting all information online, save for a single QR code, then Eurocare couldn’t be more satisfied on behalf of consumers. Plain packaging is increasingly becoming the standard for tobacco across Europe: France, UK and Ireland have already implemented it and more will follow this year. The policy seeks to protect consumers by reducing the marketing of harmful products, especially towards young individuals who are not yet smokers or drinkers.

We congratulate the wine industry with their plain packaging proposal on 12 March. It would constitute a leap forward for consumer rights and towards reducing alcohol-related harm in Europe.

Of course, such a proposal imposes additional strain on the already time-weary consumers since QR codes – if people are able to use them – are tedious to encode: Fetching the smart phone, opening an adequate application, focusing the camera at the wine bottle, waiting for the webpage to load, searching for the relevant information, reload and repeat for each and every bottle you consider buying...

But in exchange for plain packaging, that’s a price we’d be willing to pay.

We don’t want to believe that the wine industry has a hidden agenda. That they intend to convey the information they want us to know on the labels, and the information consumers want to know off the label. Such a self-regulatory proposal would be grossly inconsistent. And why should the industry bother to introduce a scheme in which we have to use QR codes to learn what’s in our drink while keeping the labels for fairytales about the splendidness of the terroir and the grape? No, we don’t believe in fairytales, we believe in plain packaging.