The European alcohol industry announced plans on Monday to provide consumers with more information about the caloric content and ingredients of their drinks.
However, the self-regulatory proposal has been criticised as insufficient by both consumer organisations and public health associations, who say it leaves too much up to individual producers.
Although European Union labelling rules for food and drinks came into effect in December 2014, alcoholic beverages above 1.2% abv were exempted from the requirements.
Last March, the European Commission gave the alcoholic drinks industry 12 months to come up with a proposal to improve consumers’ access to information about their products’ nutritional contents and ingredients.
EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andruikaitis, who will be responsible for analysing the proposal, received voluntary commitment from seven different trade bodies in the beer, wine and spirits sectors.
The industries proposed providing the information to consumers online, and possibly including a web-link or QR code on the label to make it easier to access. However, critics say listing the ingredients online is unsatisfactory.
“It is unrealistic to expect they will take a few minutes to check online how calorific wine or vodka is,” Monique Goyens, director general of European consumer organisation BEUC, said in a statement. Goyens added that around 30% of EU consumers do not own a smartphone and therefore would be unable to look up the information in many situations.
Public health associations also raised concerns and said the proposal falls short.
“We do not have to go online to find information for milk or orange juice, why should we for wine?” Mariann Skar, secretary general of European Alcohol Policy Alliance, told Reuters.
The alcohol industry remains divided on some of the details in the proposal. The current proposal would have companies provide caloric content as energy values per 100 millilitres, as is the case for non-alcoholic drinks.
However, representatives from the spirits industry have asked to list the information as a typical serving size, since servings for spirits like vodka or gin are much smaller than the standard 100-millilitre measure.
“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. The group represents national beverage organisations as well as and multinational beverage companies such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard.
The brewing industry disagrees. “There are sensitivities in different sectors but there is a joint agreement, which is laid down that 100ml is the reference as it’s provided in the regulation on the provision of food information to consumers,” Pierre-Olivier Bergeron, secretary general of Brewers of Europe, told EURACTIV.
Bergeron added that although the legislation references 100ml measurements, “When it comes to implementation we might see different approaches.”
A Commission spokesperson said the administrative body “is determined to find an equitable solution that offers to the EU citizens enhanced information on the alcohol they drink.” The spokesperson also said if the European Commission is not satisfied with the proposal, the EU executive will conduct an impact assessment to review alternative options.