Ingredients, nutritional information and health warnings on alcoholic beverages empower informed consumer decisions and protect citizens’ health
Eurocare’s Alcohol Labelling & Health Warnings Position Paper describes the simple and straightforward stance of our network: alcohol products should provide nutritional and ingredient information in line with other products sold to consumers, and consumers should be informed of the most important health risks of products which have a substantial impact on their health. The alcohol industry is opposed to providing information to consumers and are employing various strategies to avoid it, such as denying and discounting the effects of alcohol, deflecting discussions and delaying progress towards labelling regulation. Citizens rightly expect to see information relevant to their consumption decisions on the product.
Consumers struggle to obtain information to make informed decisions
Unlike other food and drinks, The Food Information to Consumers (FIC) Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 currently exempts most alcoholic drinks containing more than 1,2% by volume of alcohol from the mandatory indication of the energy value, full nutrition declaration and list of ingredients. The current industry self-regulation of labelling is failing to inform consumers about the nutritional and health impacts of alcohol. A significant majority of physical and online labels across product types are still missing this information. This leaves consumers struggling to find out the true health impacts of when making the decision to consume alcohol.
Alcohol has a significant effect on health in the EU
Alcohol is a causal factor for more than 200 diseases, health conditions and injuries, including seven types of cancer, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. It is responsible for almost 1 million deaths in Europe each year. Furthermore, alcohol exacerbates existing health inequalities, with people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds experiencing higher levels of alcohol harm. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption, with even small levels increasing the risk for disease and cancer.
Despite broad consensus, progress on policy implementation is stalled indefinitely
Health experts and consumer representatives have consistently argued for the extension of the EU food labelling regime to all alcoholic beverages. They were supported by a 2015 European Parliament resolution that called for a Commission proposal for calorie labelling on alcoholic beverages and Council Conclusions that called for the Commission to consider introducing mandatory ingredient and nutritional labelling. Furthermore, the European Commission concluded in 2017 that there are no objective grounds to justify the absence of information on ingredients and nutrition information on alcoholic beverages.
In 2021 the Commission’s Beating Cancer Plan placed a high priority on raising public awareness of the impact of alcohol on rates of cancer, with accurate, universal product labelling as a key action. As part of this plan, the Commission indicated that it would make a proposal to amend the FIC and mandate ingredient and nutritional labelling on all alcoholic beverages by the end of 2022. However, this has not happened and EU citizens and MEPs are still waiting for the proposal from the EU Commission. A further initiative on health warnings was also promised before the end of 2023, with the two measures separated for technical reasons, but no progress was made on this. An assessment of the implementation of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is expected in mid-2024.
Citizens demand information on-label
Over two thirds of participants to a consultation by the European Commission agreed consumers should be given ingredient and nutrition information for alcoholic beverages, similar to other foods and beverages. When it comes to health warnings, the civil society overwhelmingly agrees that information provided through QR codes will not be accessed by customers and will hence fail to fulfill its aim. It also risks further increasing social inequalities, given that 46% of Europeans lack basic digital skills and the percentage of indivisuals owning a smartphone varies greatly among countries (87% of Dutch residents versus 59% of Greeks).
Mandatory on-label ingredients and nutritional information should be introduced with no further delay. If the EU and Member State legislators have determined that consumers should be informed as to the ingredients and energy values of a liter of milk, they should be informed of the ingredients and energy values of a liter of wine or spirits.
QR codes on labels should be banned to avoid creating inequalities in access to information. Hiding nutrition and ingredient details of alcohol products behind QR codes, as suggested by economic interests, only serves to obscure information that could potentially challenge consumers' misconceptions.
The European Commission should establish an EU health warnings library, to empower properly informed consumer decisions. This is a low-cost measure which, at the very least, will remind consumers and society at large that alcohol is no ordinary commodity. On its own, this measure will not offer a complete solution to alcohol-related harm, but proper information provision is essential to solving complex problems.
The EU has the opportunity to assume a leading role in empowering, informing and protecting consumers by putting consistent, evidence-based information and health warnings on alcohol products, at hand, when needed, on the label.
 Sethia, A. et al, Market Analysis on Label Information: Alcoholic Drinks in the EU, July 2022
 World Health Organization, Alcohol, May 2022
 Anderson B et al, Health and cancer risks as- sociated with low levels of alcohol consumption, The Lancet Public Health, January 2023
 European Parliament resolution of 29 April 2015 on Alcohol Strategy (2015/2543 RSP)
 Council conclusions on an EU strategy on the reduction of alcohol related harm (2015), OJ C418, 16.12.2015, p.6-8
 Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council regarding the mandatory labelling of the list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration of alcoholic beverages, COM(2017) 58 final, March 2017.