MEPs call for mandatory alcohol calorie labelling

Irish are the second-highest consumers of alcohol per capita in EU

MEPs have called on the European Commission to introduce mandatory labelling of calories for alcoholic drinks by 2016 as part of a broader EU strategy on alcohol prevention.

At a vote taken at the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg on Wednesday, MEPs backed a proposal urging the EU’s executive arm to table a legislative proposal by 2016.

Alcohol abuse is estimated to cost the European Union more than €150 billion each year and is the third- leading cause of preventable premature death and disease.

According to the latest EU-wide information available, Ireland has the second-highest level of alcohol consumption per capita in the European Union.


Comparative figures for 2010 place Ireland just behind Lithuania for alcohol consumption with Irish adults consuming almost 13 litres of pure alcohol per adult during that year.

Italy had the lowest rate of alcohol consumption, at just over 6 litres of alcohol per person, followed by Sweden and Malta.

The introduction of mandatory labelling of nutritional information on alcoholic drinks was the key strand of the proposal agreed on Wednesday in Strasbourg.

While EU rules obliging all food and soft drink products to display nutritional context facts have been in place since 2011, alcoholic drinks that contain more than 1.2 per cent alcohol are exempt.

“The calorie content of alcoholic beverages should be clearly stated, and the Commission should table a legislative proposal to this end in 2016 at the latest,” the proposal agreed by MEPs said.

The drinks industry is one of the most heavily-represented industry groups in Brussels and Strasbourg and is actively engaged in lobbying MEPs as well as other EU institutions.

In the resolution passed on Wednesday, the parliament also called on the European Commission to immediately begin work on a new EU alcohol strategy which would include the collection of reliable data and analysis of various drinking patterns as well as improving the prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse.

The issue of cross-border sales via the internet should also be addressed, the proposal said.

Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly, the only Irish MEP to attend the debate on a new alcohol strategy for Europe on Monday evening in Strasbourg, welcomed the proposal.

He said while labelling of nutritional information on alcoholic drinks was a positive step, he cautioned against placing too much administrative burden on businesses when it came to labelling.

“All the labelling in the world might not make a change to the pattern of alcohol abuse. Really it’s about education and tackling the marketing around alcohol, which often makes an association between alcohol, sport and ideas of masculinity and happiness.”

The former GAA president, who initiated a taskforce on alcohol abuse that eventually led to the phasing out of alcohol sponsorship of GAA events while president of the association, said that encouraging non-alcoholic or low-alcohol beers should also be considered by legislators.

“We should be putting more emphasis, particularly with young people, on promoting beers that contain little or no alcoholic content.

“Unfortunately, often it’s the social dimension of alcohol, the need to be seen to be having a beer, that’s attractive to young people.”

Independent MEP Nessa Childers, a member of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committee that initiated the proposal, also applauded the vote.

“Alcohol harm is the third cause of preventable premature death and disease in Europe.

This makes excessive drinking an extremely serious public health issue, which takes a heavy human toll on individuals, families and the community at large.”

She urged the European Commission to come forward with an alcohol strategy imminently.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent