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British Liver Trust disappointed with labelling proposals announced by the alcohol industry

The British Liver Trust joined forces with The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and other leading health organisations in its condemnation of the self-regulatory proposal for labelling announced by the alcohol industry today (12 March 2018). The proposal, submitted by the representative European associations of the wine, spirits, beer and cider sectors to the European Commission, commits producers to do no more than provide nutritional information for their products online, with signposting on the label in the form of QR codes or web URLs.

Judi Rhys, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust said, “The European Commission has previously stated that if it considers the industry’s self-regulatory proposal to be unsatisfactory, it will look at introducing mandatory regulation and the British Liver Trust is joining forces with others to urge it to do so. The numbers of people affected by alcohol related liver disease continues to rise and the public has a right to better labelling including including calorie information, the number of units, health warnings, and mandatory inclusion of the Chief Medical Officer’s low risk drinking guidelines.”

Other reactions from health organisations to the proposal included:

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive, RSPH, said: “Having spoken with the public about alcohol labelling in our own research, we know that providing health and nutritional information online, however signposted, is simply not good enough. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of people will not follow a QR code on a label, especially if they are not already health-conscious or digitally literate. The alcohol industry knows this, which is why the proposal announced today amounts to nothing more than hiding, not providing, information to consumers.

Knowing what is in your drink is a basic consumer right, which the alcohol industry is consistently failing to fulfil. What’s more, providing that information gives drinkers the ability to make their own informed decisions about consumption, and has the potential to make an important contribution to reducing alcohol-related health harm. The European Commission must recognise that the industry’s own proposals on this front are wholly inadequate, and move to regulate – and even if it does not, the UK Government could take up the baton as we move towards our withdrawal from the EU.”

“European doctors are convinced that alcohol labels should include nutritional information for health reasons. Consumers have a right to know. Often, they may not realise that many alcoholic beverages contain a lot of sugar. This fact shouldn’t be hidden somewhere online” said Annabel Seebohm, Secretary General of Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME). 

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), said: “As in the past, self-regulation of alcohol labelling has not proved possible, with the alcohol industry unwilling to provide consumers with the information on alcohol they need. Alcohol producers are keeping the public in the dark about what’s in their drinks, and the European Commission should now move to make sure alcohol products contain ingredient and nutritional information”.

“It is not enough to tell us to go online and figure it out. Consumers demand transparency and brands they can trust. What do they have to hide? We do not have to go online to find information for milk or orange juice, why should we for wine?” said Mariann Skar, Secretary General of European Alcohol Policy Alliance.

“Alcohol consumption is the single biggest cause of liver disease in the European Union”, said Professor Helena Cortez Pinto, the EU Counsellor at the European Association for the Study of the Liver. “It’s ridiculous that a carton of milk has product labelling but not a bottle of spirits. The EU and the Member States have to step up to the plate and take concrete action on labelling or our patients will continue to die early deaths from alcohol related liver disease”.

“Liver diseases have an increasing significance in overall morality levels in Bulgaria, being ranked 6th major reason for mortality in 2014. It is important for consumers to be able to monitor their diets better. Listing ingredients and nutritional value on the labels would empower people with information that they are currently lacking. To make healthier choices for our livers we need to know what we are consuming,” said Prof. Marieta Simonova from the Clinic of Gastroenterology at the Military Medical Academy of Sofia.

“All other food sectors have indeed managed to accommodate the EU’s requirements and still maintained their aesthetic packaging standards. The well-established alcohol industry should have no difficulties in doing the same.”

Commenting on the alcohol industry’s position, Eunan McKinney, spokesperson for Alcohol Action Ireland, said:

“The proposition from industry that labelling content is onerous and a burden on producers is ludicrous. The sales ambitions of the European alcohol industry, including Ireland’s small or large producers, seem undeterred by fulfilling the labelling demands of other global markets like those in North America, Asia or the Middle East. If the explicit demands for nutritional values and ingredient information can be met for those markets, then why not those of EU citizens too?”

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