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Tension rises over Ireland’s health warning labels for wine

Ireland’s government has recently notified the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of its plans for mandatory health warning labels on wine bottles and other alcoholic drinks.

If implemented, written warnings would include stating there is a direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers, as well as a message about the dangers of drinking alcohol when pregnant. They form part of section 2012 of Ireland’s 2018 Public Health Act.

Proponents argue health warning labels will help to reduce alcohol-related disease in Ireland, but winemakers have strongly criticised the plans.

‘We need to stop a dangerous precedent that puts at risk a symbolic product of Italy,’ said Italian farming group Coldiretti in February.

Its president, Ettore Prandini, said it was inappropriate to penalise moderate wine consumption. Wine has been part of the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years, the group added.

Thirteen European Union member states, including the major wine-producing nations of France, Italy and Spain, criticised Ireland’s labelling plans during a recent consultation period, according to European wine trade body CEEV (Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins).

It also argued the plans were ‘clearly incompatible with EU law’, noting the premise of having a single market and harmonised legislation.

The European Commission hasn’t raised any objections to the Irish government’s plan, however.

‘The Commission indeed did not issue a negative opinion on the draft law,’ a European Commission spokesperson confirmed to Decanter.

‘Αlcohol-related harm is a major public health concern in the EU,’ the spokesperson said, adding that the bloc’s Cancer Plan specifically aims to reduce harmful use of alcohol across member states by 10% by 2025.

There is leeway for member states to adopt measures specific to their needs, the Commission said.

‘The Irish authorities have sufficiently demonstrated that the notified measures have been taken based on scientific evidence and public health grounds specific to the Irish context,’ the spokesperson said.

Ignacio Sánchez Recarte, secretary general of CEEV, said in February, ‘Now it is time for international partners at WTO level to raise again their concerns with the Irish proposal.’ At the WTO, there is a 90-window for comments following Ireland’s notification, dated 6 February.

‘In the absence of action by the European Commission, little can be done,’ he added. ‘I guess only the European Union Court of Justice would be able to defend the EU at this stage.’

One quarter of member nations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) have some form of health warning label on alcoholic drinks, but only South Korea currently has a warning linking alcohol to cancer risk, according to an editorial in the March 2023 edition of the Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology journal.

‘Ireland has an opportunity here to be world-leading in its alcohol policies,’ the authors wrote. ‘It could also provide valuable, high-quality data on the effectiveness of alcohol warning labels.’

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The post Tension rises over Ireland’s health warning labels for wine appeared first on Decanter.

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