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Eurocare input to consultation on EU farm and food products – review of policy on promotion inside and outside the EU

The European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare) supports the comprehensive approach within the F2F strategy and to introduce changes within the food system enabling EU citizens to lead healthy lifestyle regardless of social background by Promoting sustainable food consumption, facilitating the shift towards healthy, sustainable diets. Given Eurocare’s profile, comments will be given to areas in which it possesses expertise, mainly prevention and reduction of alcohol related harm.

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan stated it will provide support to Member States and stakeholders for the implementation of best practice interventions and capacity building activities to reduce harmful alcohol consumption in line with the targets of the UN SDGs. To achieve this, it needs to reduce the exposure of young people to marketing of alcoholic beverages. The Commission should therefore stop stimulating consumption of alcohol via the EU promotion programme for agricultural products.  

Wine promotion subsidies are aimed primarily at increasing European wines’ competitiveness in non-EU countries through activities such as information campaigns, market studies and participation at wine fairs abroad.  The CAP features two parallel schemes for wine promotion. One is regulated over Reg (EU) 1308/2013 and amounts to nearly €250 million in 2018. Another one is regulated over Reg (EU) 1144/2014 and has financed more than €22 million in wine related promotion since its inception in 2014. There is a clear trend of increasing budgets for both these schemes.  

These promotional measures, draining millions of euros from the EU budget, jeopardize public health, create market distortions, and occasionally camouflage serious misuse of funds by the beneficiaries. Furthermore, the European Court of Auditors have questioned the role of EU grants to promote wine, citing lack of demonstrable results over the scheme’s lifetime.  

European agricultural policies are important tools to support farmers’ livelihood and sustainable rural development. However, EU policies must be coherent and cannot be evaluated according to economic metrics alone: Public health perspectives should always be weighed into evaluations, especially when the beneficiaries of a policy are producers of alcoholic beverages.  

Worryingly, the wine industry’s promotional activities heavily rely on marketing in social media that does not differentiate between youth and adult users. And so, kids and youth below legal drinking age are exposed to messages that encourage them to drink European wine. The earlier youth start drinking, the worse are the long-term health consequences.  

The subsidies favour Europe’s big wine producing countries: almost 90 percent of the funds are awarded to Spain, France and Italy, a situation that reinforces these countries’ grip of consumer markets.    

The EU should phase out this expensive market intervention, which could save at least as €1000 million per financial period (the amount that is paid in promotion subsidies to producers over a five-year period).3 Instead, the grubbing-up scheme should be reintroduced, which pays the wine farmers in cash money in exchange for permanently uprooting their vines. Unlike wine promotion subsidies, it has proven to be an effective measure in stemming the overproduction of wine.  

·       While we are supportive of promotional measures for agricultural products that are components of a healthy diet, wine – as a product with scientifically proven health risks – should not be considered a priority product.
·       In the evaluation of project proposals, public health perspectives must be taken into consideration next to the other evaluation criteria.
·       No promotional measures should be funded that exposes youth to alcohol marketing, particularly with the use of social media. Therefore, no social media promotional activities should receive funding.
·       The EU should enforce tighter scrutiny of the disbursed funds to combat fraudulent use of subsidies.  

Eurocare will closely follow and contribute to further reforms and improvements to EU marketing standards.

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