Alcohol Bill = less wine choice

The labelling changes proposed in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill have been described as ‘draconian’ and they’ll have “a devastating effect on Ireland’s wine importers” according to the Irish Wine Association which has strongly opposed this proposal in the Bill as it will mean less choice for consumers, an increase in business costs and could lead to higher prices.

The Alcohol Bill proposes mandatory cancer warning labels on all alcohol products sold in the Republic of Ireland.  This proposal, along with other labelling requirements, will effectively mean an ‘Irish only’ label for all alcohol products sold in the Republic of Ireland including imported alcohol.

The Association says that the prospect of wine importers (and possibly wine producers) printing a label specific to the Irish market, while operating within the free trading block of the European Union, will become a logistical nightmare.  The legislation, which has now passed all stages of the Seanad on its way to the Dail in 2018, means that all Irish-bound wine will have to be labelled differently and stored separately in warehouses across the world.

“This will add to the business costs for wine importers which might result in higher prices for consumers,” states the IWA.

“Ireland is a relatively small market and making special accommodations for such a small market is both costly and inefficient,” it points out, “This will make Ireland an unviable market to export wine to. This will especially impact smaller wine producers selling their specialist boutique wines to the Irish market.”

“The alluring charm of wine is the variety that is on offer for consumers,” explains Jim Bradley, Chair of the Irish Wine Association and Chairman of Febvre & Company, one of the country’s largest wine distributors, “Today, Irish consumers are more sophisticated when it comes to food and today they are blessed with an array of some of the world’s finest wines, which is ideal for food pairing.  Unfortunately, this Bill poses a threat to the variety currently on offer to Ireland’s wine drinkers.

“In my 40 years working in the business, I’ve also never witnessed a Government attempting to introduce such a damaging piece of legislation,” he continued, “While the wine industry fully supports the objectives of the Alcohol Bill, to tackle harmful drinking and underage consumption, it’s important that any measures that are introduced are evidence-based.  The evidence that the Department of Health has presented on the Alcohol Bill’s effectiveness to tackle alcohol misuse is questionable at best.”

The Alcohol Bill could be also interpreted as a barrier to the free movement of goods within the European Union and 10 EU member states have already raised objections to the bill, most of which are wine-producing nations who’ve openly voiced concern about the Bill.

“The Public Health Alcohol Bill has alarmed other EU member states, 10 of whom have submitted formal complaints to the European Commission about the Bill,” commented Ignacio Sanchez Recarte, Secretary General of the Brussel’s-based Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins – the association representing European wine companies, “Only one other piece of national legislation has received more complaints in recent years.  Furthermore, it’s alarming that 18 months after all those complaints were submitted, the Irish Department of Health has not yet responded to all the genuine concerns from Ireland’s European partners about the bill.” 

Irish drinks manufacturers too have heavily criticised the Minister for Health and the Department of Health for failing to address its concerns about the advertising and labelling proposals in the Bill, which has now passed all stages in the Seanad.

However the Minister has consistently refused to meet the industry to discuss the Bill which is now on its way to the Dail in 2018.

A number of Senators said that it’s important for the Minister to engage with stakeholders impacted by this legislation, including drinks businesses, to ensure that measures are workable and to understand the impact of the proposals on viable Irish businesses.

But while the Minister has accepted amendments to the Bill to the effect that health warnings including ingredients, calories and links to cancer will take up one third of the label on a bottle, Minister Harris has not meaningfully engaged with or even met drinks manufacturers about the legislation, according to Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland.

In the discussions as the Bill was passing through the Senead a number of Senators highlighted the fact that, on one hand the Government is suggesting that it’s pro-enterprise and will support Ireland’s important food and drinks sector and yet on the other hand it’s introducing legislation that is not proven to work and which will severely undermine drinks businesses.

Minster Harris took a balanced approach to the issue of structural separation and ABFI is calling for the same balanced approach to be taken to the advertising and labelling proposals.

The Government’s health warnings proposed for all alcohol products sold in the Republic of Ireland include a cancer warning on alcohol products which ABFI says would be devastating for drinks companies.

The increased cost of this will be particularly harmful for small local producers and new entrants. The labelling requirements would act as a severe barrier to entry and such a measure would cause serious reputational damage to Ireland’s premium drinks products.

ABFI says that applying cancer warning labels on Irish products gives a clear advantage to our competitors abroad who’re not required to carry such a label. Although the labels would be confined to bottles sold in Ireland only, images of premium products produced in Ireland carrying a cancer warning could be circulated on the internet/social media. This would be very damaging for Irish businesses.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will also make Ireland one of the most restrictive countries in the world for marketing alcohol products. All existing alcohol advertisements will be banned under the new legislation which will see all forms of a storyline in ads prohibited.

This will be extremely damaging for growth and innovation in the sector as businesses, both large and small, will be unable to market to consumers and bring new products to the market.

“The drinks industry is a great Irish success story, with globally-recognised quality brands, exports worth over €1 billion and strong prospects for the future,’ stated ABFI Director Patricia Callan, “A few years ago, there was only four distilleries in Ireland and now there are 18. There will be around 100 craft breweries in the country by the end of this year.

“Yet the Government seems to be taking all of this for granted. Minister Harris and the Department of Health continue to ignore drinks businesses as it pushes through legislation that will effectively stall and potentially reverse this growth, acting as a huge barrier to entry. This is at a time when the sector already faces major uncertainty with Brexit negotiations ongoing.

“It should be noted that the drinks industry fully supports measures to target alcohol misuse and underage drinking, but it is critically important that measures are targeted and based on evidence. This is not the case at the moment.”

ABFI believes that the legislation now threatens jobs in a sector employing over 200,000 at a time when a thriving drinks industry is critical for Ireland during the turmoil of Brexit.



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