A health labelling policy for alcohol in the EU?

Ireland will become the first country in the world to impose health labels on alcoholic drinks and it may prompt many European states to follow.

As a population the Irish are some of the heaviest drinkers in Europe, drinking 12.7 litres of alcohol in 2019, according to the latest data. Italians by comparison drink eight litres per year, the lowest amount.


In Ireland, it will be mandatory for the packaging on alcoholic beverages to display information including calorie content, risks of cancer and liver disease and the dangers of drinking during pregnancy.

They will also have to direct consumers to the Irish Health Service Executive website for more information on alcohol consumption.

The European Commission signed off on the plan and the law is expected to be introduced in 2026. It’s prompted many public heath professionals to push for the entire European Union to follow suit.

“We believe that all consumers should know the facts about alcohol, including details about the risks,” said Ray Walley, the Vice-Chairman of the Standing Committee of European Doctors, which represents national medical associations across Europe.

“We would also like to see the European Commission publish a review of EU legislation as soon as possible. And European Doctors supports the right of national governments to take initiatives such as the Irish case.”

That’s prompted concern among alcohol producers across the continent who fear their sales will be affected.

But at least one drinks body is not attacking the health message itself – instead it’s talking about how the EU’s internal drinks market might be fragmented.

spiritsEUROPE is a group which represents, defends and promotes the European spirits sector, and the body has now submitted a formal complaint asking the European Commission to open an infringement procedure against Ireland.

It accuses Dublin of breaching EU law with its planned new regulation on labelling rules for alcoholic beverages.  And it argues that “he proposed measures risk fragmenting the Internal Market by deviating from EU harmonised labelling rules.

“We do not believe that the Irish legislation is a particularly useful or practical solution in terms of internal market coherence to harmonise on a European scale,” Adam Ullrich said.

Ullrich then went on to criticise the way the European region is defined by the World Health Organisation.


“What we have to differentiate very clearly is that normally the term Europe in these discussions refers to the European WHO regions, which stretches from Lisbon to Vladivostok, includes Turkey and many of the Central Asian republics,” he added.

Almost one percent of the EU’s entire GDP is spent on alcoholic beverages.

In 2021, EU households spent 128 billion euros on alcohol with countries such as Latvia, Estonia and Poland topping the list.

But there is a noticeable decline in alcohol use in younger generations.

“When you look at the behaviour of the younger generations, nowadays they consume less and less… Alcohol is less and less associated to celebration and fun,” Victor Warhem, the Representative of the Centre for European Policy in France, said.


He has an answer for the drink industry, which is to be innovative in changing their products to fit the changing market.

“What you can do is anticipate and innovate, you know, and that is what industry does. So what does it mean in this context? This would mean, for instance, create new bridges, actually alcohol free.”

Low-alcohol and alcohol free drinks are clearly a growing sector for the drinks industry.

According to a research article on the subject in the Nutrients Journal “European consumers are increasingly buying and drinking lower strength alcohol products over time, with some two fifths doing so to drink less alcohol.”

“It tends to be younger more socially advantaged men, and existing heavier buyers and drinkers of alcohol, who take up lower strength alcohol products,” the article stated.


Worldwide, three million deaths every year result from harmful use of alcohol and this represents 5.3% of all deaths, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

And in people aged 20–39 years, approximately 13.5% of total deaths are attributable to alcohol, it states.

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