A vote by the European Parliament means that major drinks companies will still be able to make vodka from non-traditional ingredients such as grapes, sugar beet and citrus fruits, without having to label it as a “vodka-style drink.”
MEPs from the so-called ‘vodka belt’ – Poland, Scandinavian countries and Baltic states – had tried to tighten the legal definition of vodka so it would apply only to drinks made with potatoes or grain. Other countries said that was just protectionism.
Russia is the world’s biggest vodka maker and sales there reached 8.2 billion euros last year, slightly ahead of western Europe and behind the 9.2 billion euros of sales in the US. East European countries have the highest sales, worth 15 billion.
Under the proposed new regulations, the ingredients of any vodka must be prominently displayed on the label. Raw materials other than potatoes and grain are used by producers in countries such as Britain, France and Germany which account for nearly a third of EU vodka production.
The United States, which produces vodka from cane sugar, was watching this debate very closely. It had already threatened an appeal to the World Trade Organisation if the EU regulation was too strict.
The WTO does now have to approve the change in labelling and can block it if member countries decide it might be a barrier to trade.