Alcohol Bill to negatively impact EU trade

The requirement for a cancer warning label to be included on all alcohol products sold in the Republic of Ireland, covering at least one-third of all printed materials, has emerged as a hugely contentious aspect of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill as it’s expected to create a trade barrier, according to the European Commission.

The Commission has now submitted comments to the Irish Government in relation to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and the Amendments introduced at Christmas and it has pointed out that a number of measures in the controversial Bill will negatively impact intra-EU trade, going beyond what is required to effectively tackle alcohol misuse.

In particular, the Commission heavily criticised the proposed requirement that at least one third of the printed material on drinks products will be given over to health warnings.

It stated that it “is very concerned about the impact that this requirement will have on the export of alcoholic beverages to Ireland”.

It also considers the size of the warnings to be disproportionate and questioned whether the same objective – to tackle alcohol misuse – could be achieved if the health warning had a smaller, yet visible, size.

The Commission also stated that the objective to reduce alcohol misuse through more restrictions on advertising could be achieved by less extensive prohibitions than those proposed in the Bill, which would also have less effect on intra-EU trade.

According to the Commission, the legislation means that a magazine distributed all over Europe containing just one advertisement for an alcoholic product today would need to be reprinted before it was lawfully marketed in Ireland under the new legislation.

“The comments from the European Commission confirm the need for the Irish Government to make a number of reasonable amendments to the Alcohol Bill, as it states that the same overall objective of reducing alcohol misuse could be achieved through less trade-restrictive measures,” stated ABFI Director Patricia Callan in pointing out that the Commission’s views highlight the urgent need for amendments to be made to the legislation, “The drinks industry, like the European Commission, supports the overall objectives of the Alcohol Bill to tackle harmful and underage drinking in Ireland. However, its’s clear some of the advertising and labelling provisions are not proportionate and will represent a barrier to trade in the EU.

“We’re calling on the Government to remove the requirement for cancer warnings on alcohol products and a requirement that health warnings take up at least one-third of the label and other printed material.”

A number of member states have also stated that they’re worried about this legislation, with Italy and Portugal expressing strong concerns about the prospect of cancer warnings being put on drink labels. Seven other countries submitted comments on the new amendments.

Beyond the EU, the government agency responsible for developing and recommending US trade policy to the US President recently warned that the Bill’s proposed measures could impact the ability of US companies to export to the European market.

Sign Up for Drinks Industry Ireland

Get a free weekly update on Drinks Industry trade news, direct to your inbox. Sign up now, it's free