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Days of wine and labels

brussels bureau

Days of wine and labels


This is an important time for the occasionally difficult relationship between big industrial groups and EU consumers.
The stage for the head-to-head was the EU Parliament, which has approved the kind of legislation that will really impact on our daily lives in the years to come.
There has been a decision on GM crops, a new regulation that will allow member states to fine drivers for traffic offences committed in other EU countries and ambitious regulation proposed by the Commission to make telephone roaming calls cheaper.
We’ve also seen  new food labelling rules that aim to encourage consumers to make healthier choices.
My first surprise was that the alcohol industry is untouched by these new rules. By 2015 - when the rules come into force - we will still not be able to read on the label how many calories there are in a bottle of rum, wine, cider or any other tipple we sometimes like to enjoy.
Consumers’ associations, who have had to fight fiercely for this regulation, explained that this is a turf battle as every member state has a ‘national alcohol’ to defend and it is an industry with an ancient cultural tradition and a big economic impact in Europe.

I phoned people in the wine and spirits lobbies to find out more.
The wine industry says that it is really difficult to give accurate nutrition facts for a product that “is alive” and changes every year. Their second main reason is that most wine is produced by small companies and it would be too expensive for them.
The spirits industry representative told me that their products cannot be compared to a pack of cereals or a bottle of milk. They don’t say ‘no’ to giving details of their products at some point, but disagree on how to present the information.
Under the new rules they would have to write the number of calories in, let’s say whiskey, on a 100 ml basis. That’s about four shots, an amount that nobody should drink at once. They say it would indirectly encourage people to drink too much.
Finally I interviewed Marianne Skar, secretary general of Eurocare, a lobby for EU policies on alcohol. They say they’re not pushing for a ‘zero alcohol policy’ but for responsible regulation. Skar showed us a model of how a bottle of wine with health warnings and nutritional information would look.
Eurocare thinks that Renate Sommer, the MEP Rapporteur on the new food labelling rules may not be completely impartial as she is vice-president of the EU Parliament's Beer Club, a lobby for the European brewing sector.
Eurocare says that Sommer has been invited to several activities and that they have asked for a meeting very often but she has so far declined to come.

Of course I contacted Sommer’s cabinet to confirm this information. Eventually they replied to my email, explaining that Ms Sommer accepted the position at the EP Beer Club because she comes from a German region known for its beer quality, and the Beer Club wants to have a wide representation of brewing regions across Europe.

They acknowleged Eurocare’s invitations but refered to Ms Sommer’s busy agenda.
Does the position of Ms Sommer, as Vice-President of the EP beer lobby, compromise her impartiality as Eurocare suggests?
I don’t know. But our colleague Maria Piñeiro interviewed Sommer in Strasbourg about alcohol labelling policy and her answer was almost word for word the same as the one the alcohol industry association gave me, as you can see in the video.
EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli also gives his point of view. Finally, there are some extracts of the interview with Marianne Skar.
Enjoy the video. In moderation, of course.

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