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01/05/2008

EUROCARE's position on the Commission's proposal on labelling

This is Eurocare's reaction to the European Commission's proposal on the provision of food information to consumers that is currently being debated in the European Parliament.

Eurocare strongly believes all alcoholic beverages should be required to state on their labels: their ingredients, any substances with allergenic effect, relevant nutrition information (i.e. energy value) as well as the total grams of pure alcohol pr 100 ml or units. Providing this information on alcohol labels would allow consumers to make informed choices about their alcohol consumption.

Ingredient disclosures would allow consumers to assess the quality of the product, and more importantly, help those with known allergies or intolerances to avoid potentially dangerous physical reactions.

Furthermore, consumers are generally not aware of the potential contribution of alcoholic beverages to their calorie intake. Consumption of alcoholic beverages contributes an important amount of calories to the consumers' diet; these calories are derived not only from the alcohol itself (i.e. ethanol), with 7.1 kcal/g, but also from the other ingredients in the beverage. For example, a small 150 ml glass of white wine can contain 150 to 170 kcal. This means that a large pub glass of wine which is commonly 250 ml would hold as many calories as a light lunch.

Requiring all alcoholic beverages to provide this information is in line with the EU Institutions' obligations under the EC Treaty (Articles 95[i] and 153[ii] ) to protect the health and safety of consumers and to promote the right to information within their respective powers.

Read the full text of Eurocare's policy statement

Background information

On January 30th, the European Commission adopted a proposal on the provision of food information to consumers. Under the proposal, foodstuffs are required to list the ingredients and to display key nutritional information on the front of the package (including energy value, the amounts of fat, saturates, carbohydrates with specific references to sugars and salt). General requirements on how nutrition information should be displayed on food labels are also set out. The proposal does however exempt wine, beer and spirits from the requirement to list the ingredients (art. 20) and to provide for a nutrition declaration (art. 29.1) that apply to the rest of foodstuffs. Only those alcoholic beverages that fall out of the three categories, (e.g. alcopops) will have to provide information on their ingredients and nutrient content on the front of the bottle.

Allergens: Food containing allergenic substances (such as peanuts, milk, mustard or fish) must be labelled or the presence of the allergen must be clearly indicated in another way. Fish gelatine or Isinglass used as fining agent in beer and wine are exempted from the labeling requirement and so they are whey, cereals and nuts used for making distillates or ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin for spirit drinks and other beverages containing more than 1,2 % by volume of alcohol.

Alcoholic strength: the proposal establishes that the actual alcoholic strength by volume of beverages containing more than 1,2 % by volume of alcohol shall be indicated by a figure to not more than one decimal place. It shall be followed by the symbol ‘% vol.' and may be preceded by the word ‘alcohol' or the abbreviation ‘alc'.

The directive will have to be adopted by co-decision procedure which means that both the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament need to agree on an identical text before the proposal can become law.

The Committee within the Parliament responsible for drafting the report is the Committee for Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). The Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) will give its opinion. Last 24 June there was an initial exchange of views without document in both committees. The rapporteur is organising a public hearing on the 28th of August. She also announced that that she did not plan to draft her report until mid September and it was unlikely to be translated until early October, which made the deadline for amendments (scheduled for 4 October 2008) a bit tight and it may need to be extended. The vote in the ENVI Committee is scheduled for December. The plenary of the Parliament will vote on the proposal in March/April.