Calorie labelling should be mandatory for alcoholic drinks, say public health MEPs

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Calorie labelling should be mandatory for alcoholic drinks, say public health MEPs

Related tags Alcoholic beverages Alcoholic beverage

Calorie content labelling should be made mandatory for alcoholic beverages in the EU as soon as possible, say public health Members of European Parliament (MEPs).

In a resolution made yesterday, MEPs on the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee call for nutritional information and ingredients listings on alcoholic drinks. They also want labels to warm consumers about the dangers of drink-driving, and drinking when pregnant.

Food and beverages are covered by the EU Regulation on Food Information to Consumers (FIC), however, alcoholic beverages (above 1.2% ABV) are currently exempt from displaying ingredients and nutritional listings.

Heineken, SAB Miller, Carlsberg, AB InBev, Diageo, and The Brewers of Europe have all recently made moves to include more information​ on alcoholic products (Diageo has pledged to include alcohol content and nutritional information per serving, for example).

Spirits Europe welcomes efforts to curb underage drinking and change risky drinking behavior. But it says a reference point of 100ml (as used by FIC) is not appropriate for all alcoholic drinks.  

Making responsible drinking easier

The ENVI committee wants plans for calorie content and ingredient listings on alcoholic beverages to be tabled by the European Commission by 2016.

Such labelling would help consumers understand responsible alcohol consumption, they said.

The MEPs want labelling to warn about the dangers of drink-driving, as well as advising pregnant women not to drink alcohol.

ENVI’s recommendations to tackle alcohol related harm:

  • Mandatory calorie content labelling in alcoholic beverages
  • Nutritional information and ingredients listings
  • Label warnings against drink-driving, and driving when pregnant.
  • Minimum age standardized at 18 years
  • National authorities should consider measures to prevent sale of very cheap alcohol
  • EC should address cross-border sale of alcohol online
  • Member states should lead campaigns to raise awareness of binge drinking

They also want to see more effort taken to protect young people from alcohol related harm.

“Misuse of alcohol is the second largest lifestyle-related cause of disease in some member states and alcohol addiction is a risk factor in over 60 chronic diseases,”​ said a statement from the committee.

Member states should monitor the impact of alcohol advertising on young people, and limit exposure if necessary, says the resolution. Minimum age limits across member states (which currently vary) should be at least 18, and public money should never promote alcohol consumption, it adds.

The resolution was passed yesterday and will be put to a vote by the full House at the end of April.

Same standards for milk, juice, and alcohol?

Consumer organisation BEUC has welcomed ENVI’s resolution and is now urging the Commission to act.

“We see no good reason why milk or fruit juice would display nutrients and calories, while a bottle of alcohol remains secretive,”​ said Ilaria Passarani, head of BEUC’s Food and Health department.

The organisation adds it is ‘essential’ for drinks to contain accurate nutritional information in order for consumers to make informed choices about what and how much they drink.

The last two weeks have seen labelling regulations for alcoholic beverages come to the fore. Brewing heavyweights Heineken, SAB Miller, Carlsberg and AB InBev have backed a pledge from The Brewers of Europe, which commits to voluntarily listing nutritional information and ingredients for beer.

Diageo announced it will provide consumers with alcohol content and nutritional information per serve on its products worldwide.    

The right reference point?

Trade body Spirits Europe says it welcomes recommendations for all stakeholders to work together and change risky drinking behaviours.

However, it is challenging the use of 100ml​ as a standard reference point.

Paul Skehan, director general, Spirits Europe, told the reference point will confuse, not help, consumers seeking to drink responsibly.  

A standard serving of beer is more than 100ml (330ml, for example), whereas a spirit serving is less (usually 30ml).

“The information a consumer needs is linked to the normal choices in front of him:  a glass of wine, a pint / or half pint of beer, or a dram of whisky,” ​said Skehan.

“While 100ml is usually a fraction of the amount of beer a person might consume in one serving, it can equal to three servings of spirits. Our messaging has to be consistent, and – for us – the most important message is about responsible drinking.”

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