BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe’s drinks sector announced plans on Monday to inform consumers more about the energy content and ingredients in beer, wine and spirits in a self-policing move, but critics said much of this information would only be available online.
Alcoholic beverages have been exempted from EU labeling rules that came into force in December 2014 for all other food and drinks, but the European Commission called on the sector to come up with a proposal this year to regulate itself.
Seven trade bodies, covering beer, wine and spirits, gave their voluntary commitment on the issue to EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andruikaitis, who will be responsible for analyzing the proposal.
The European alcoholic beverages sector said it was committing to providing nutrition information and the list of ingredients of their products.
This information would be provided to consumers online, possibly with a web-link or QR code on the label itself to allow consumers easier access.
The energy values would be provided per 100 millilitres, as for standard drinks, but could also be available per typical serving, something the spirits industry has been keen on because of the smaller measures used for the likes of whisky or gin.
“We ask the Commission to consider allowing energy on spirits labels to be given more prominently per serving size than per 100 ml,” said Ulrich Adam, director general of industry group spiritsEUROPE, which represents national organizations and multinationals such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard.
The brewing sector said that over 70 percent of beers in the EU already list ingredients on the label. Separately, some countries have already set stricter measures for alcohol labeling, such as Austria, which requires producers of some wines to disclose the amount of sugar per serving.
EU consumer organization BEUC said the proposal allowed manufacturers to choose between on-label or online information and that the latter was unsatisfactory as consumers made shopping decisions in seconds.
“It is unrealistic to expect they will take a few minutes to check online how calorific wine or vodka is,” BEUC director general Monique Goyens said in a statement, adding also that about 30 percent of EU consumers did not have a smartphone.
A group of public health associations also expressed reservations and urged the Commission to dismiss the proposal.
“We do not have to go online to find information for milk or orange juice, why should we for wine?” said Mariann Skar, secretary general of European Alcohol Policy Alliance.
Reporting by Samantha Koester; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Robin Pomeroy