EU DG Sante changes in policymaking strategy? The alcoholic beverages report case

The DG Sante of the EU Commission on 13th March 2017 published a report – due by 13th December 2014 – responding to the obligation set by Article 16(4) of Regulation (EU) No 1169/20111 on the provision of food information to consumers.

This provision exempted alcoholic beverages containing more than 1,2 % by volume of alcohol from the mandatory list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration and stated that the Commission shall produce a report addressing whether alcoholic beverages should be covered, in particular, by the requirement to provide the information on the energy value, and the reasons justifying possible exemptions, taking into account the need to ensure coherence with other relevant Union policies and considering in this context the need to propose a definition of ‘alcopops’.

Here below the Commission’s conclusions of the report and a brief comment about the solution proposed by the DG Sante:

“Under the current rules, unlike for other foods, the indication of the list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration is not obligatory for alcoholic beverages. With the nutrition declaration having become mandatory for the vast majority of pre-packed food as of 13 December 2016, the particular situation of alcoholic beverages is now even more salient.

European consumers have therefore reduced access to the nutrition declaration and to the list of ingredients with the exception of ingredients which may have an allergenic effect. The European Parliament, but also the World Health Organisation, consumer and public health organisations are now asking for new labelling rules for alcoholic beverages, especially concerning the labelling of the energy value.

Member States’ experts indicated some expectations, especially regarding the nutrition declaration, and more particularly for the mandatory labelling of the energy value.

In the past, the economic sectors concerned have voiced their opposition to a mandatory labelling regime. Today, the sector acknowledges the right of consumers to know what they are drinking. On that basis, an increasing number of voluntary initiatives have emerged providing consumers with information on the ingredients, the energy value or the full nutrition declaration of alcoholic beverages and addressing consumers’ expectations for more information on the drinks they consume. Originally, such voluntary information was mainly accessible through new information and communication technologies. However, according to information from the sector, it should now increasingly be found on the labels themselves.

In view of the lack of legal action in this area, some Member States have adopted national rules requesting partial indication of ingredients for certain alcoholic drinks. Even if the provisions for the nutrition declaration are fully harmonised, some Member States are also notifying national measures addressing the nutrition declaration for alcoholic beverages. Such national initiatives contribute to an increased risk of market fragmentation.

The list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration are key information particulars that help consumers to make more informed and healthier choices. The exemptions from the list of ingredients and from the nutrition declaration for certain foods cover, mainly, single ingredient products, whose name suffice to inform the consumers about their content, like salt, fruits and vegetables. However, in the case of alcoholic beverages, it cannot be assumed that consumers are necessarily aware of the generally various ingredients used in the production process and of their nutritional value.

On the basis of the information reviewed, the Commission has not identified objective grounds that would justify the absence of information on ingredients and nutrition information on alcoholic beverages or a differentiated treatment for some alcoholic beverages, such as ‘alcopops’. At this stage, the Commission therefore sees no need or clear added value for a specific definition of ‘alcopops’ for labelling purposes.

This report shows that the sector is increasingly prepared to provide responses to consumers’ expectations to know what they are drinking. This is demonstrated by the expansion of concerted or independent voluntary initiatives developed and implemented by the sector to provide consumers with information on the list of ingredients, the energy value and/or the full nutrition declaration on or off label. It has to be particularly noted that a rising number of alcoholic beverages present on the EU market already bear the full nutrition declaration. Taking into account these recent developments, the Commission considers that as a first step, current voluntary initiatives should be allowed to develop further so as to provide list of ingredients and nutrition declaration. It therefore invites the industry to respond to consumers’ expectations and present within a year of adoption of this report a self-regulatory proposal that would cover the entire sector of alcoholic beverages.

The Commission will assess the industry’s proposal. Should the Commission consider the self-regulatory approach proposed by the industry as unsatisfactory, it would then launch an impact assessment to review further available options: in line with Better Regulation principles this impact assessment would consider regulatory as well as non-regulatory options, in particular, regarding, the provision of information on the energy value of alcoholic beverages; such assessment should carefully consider the impact of options on the internal market, on the economic sectors concerned, on consumers’ needs and the actual use of this information, as well as on international trade.”

Commission’s recent conclusions are quite peculiar, at least in the food sector panorama. Since today, DG Sante never delegated similar tasks to industry: it has to be held in account that from one side the information discussed constitute – fundamentally – labeling obligation, but on the other side the choice to intervene or not could greatly impact on sensitive public health issues and on Member States expenses for prevention of NCDs and alcohol related diseases.

Politically speaking, this could be read as a signal of political weakness of the Commission? Maybe, but on my view it is more probably a way to “put the hot potato” in the hands of the industry, that in case of inaction will be most probably the target of the blame of the public opinion next year.

The efforts made by the industry in the recent years, in terms of consumer information and promotion of responsible consumption of alcohol, are undubitable: but now the sector has to show its full maturity and present a balanced proposal. Otherwise, it could face some difficult times on the road ahead.

Summer Academy in Global Food Law and Policy 2016 – Final programme and brand new website

Also this year I will be pleased and honored to participate to Alberto Alemanno‘s Summer Academy, leading a panel about food fraud prevention and challenges faced by official controls when it comes to imported goods: a brief comparative analysis on different systems will be  also developed (EU, US, China).

As usual I suggest to any practicioner involved in the food system to attend, due to the invaluable heritage of knowledge and contacts you can gain in just 5 days.

The Summer Academy in Global Food Law & Policy, directed by the excellent friend and Professor Alberto Alemanno, is an established one-week summer programme that brings together practitioners, policymakers, industry representatives and leading academics working in the field of food law and policy. It offers intensive training on the most innovative developments in global food regulation and provides a unique opportunity for professional development and networking in an informal and inter-disciplinary setting. By talking, studying and interacting with food experts from all over the world, participants are able to gain new perspectives into both their own sectors and international regulatory issues. This is achieved by combining traditional classroom instruction with experiential learning opportunities offered by dedicated and distinguished international experts.

The Academy will take place from Monday, 18 July, to Friday, 22 July, 2016 in Bilbao, Spain. The choice of this vibrant city will enable participants to benefit from the world renowned Basque cuisine, its privileged geographical location between the Atlantic sea and the Rioja region, as well as its distinctive architectural landscapes (with the Guggenheim Museum, Norman Foster’s Undergroud, the towers by Arata Isozaki and César Pelli and the Calatrava’s airport).

This edition´s keynote speaker will be Professor Marion Nestle, award-winning author of Food Politics and of the newly published Soda Politics, from New York University.

Here below a preview of the final programme (to download, click here):

Key Note address Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and winning)

Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University

Mega Trade Agreements as New Sources of International Food Law

Marsha Echols, Professor of Law at Howard University School of Law, Director of The World Food Law Institute

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: Where do we stand?

Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law at HEC Paris and Global Clinical Professor of Law at NYU School of Law

The Trans-Pacific Partnership’s Implications for Food Safety Governance

Ching-Fu Lin, National Tsing hua University, Taiwan

EU Policies to Tackle Obesity and Overweight: Translating Promises into Change

Ilaria Passarani, Head of the Food and Health Department at BEUC – The European Consumer Organisation

The Australian Interpretive Nutrition Labeling

Alexandra Jones, Research Associate, Food Policy Division, The George Institute for Global Health, Australia

A Global Perspective through the Lenses of the Latin American Experience

Oscar Cabrera, Executive Director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center

The Role of Taxation and Economic Incentives in NCD Prevention: the Case for Sugar Taxes and Minimum Price for Alcohol Unit

Oliver Bartlett, Liverpool University
Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet Professor, HEC Paris and Global Professor of Law, NYU School of Law

Think Outside the Juicebox: A Commercial Litigation Strategy to Temper the Effects of Food Advertising Targeting Children

Esther Trakinski, New York University

UNGPs and the Right to Food: Joining the Dots

Kirsteen Shields, Lecturer at the School of Law at University of Dundee

Nudging for Good: Towards a New Form of Corporate Social Responsibility?

Francesco Tramontin, AIM

Build Trust in Food: Review of Key Topics and Initiatives to Influence Consumer Behaviour

Petra Klassen Wigger, Scientific Advisor, Corporate Nutrition, Health & Wellness Unit, Nestle

The ‘Consumer’ Angle on the Nudge Debate

Clare Leonard, Director Global Nutrition Strategy and Communications, Mondelēz International

The challenge of Endocrine Disruptors: A European and Global Perspective

Natalie McNelis, EU and International Trade Lawyer, New York and Brussels Bars

Food Frauds and the Global Food Safety Import Challenges: a Comparative Perspective of EU, US and Chinese Official Controls on the Market

Cesare Varallo, Food lawyer and founder of foodlawlatest.com

Francesco Montanari, Food lawyer and Senior Associate at Arcadia International

Hope to see you there and have a enjoyable and fruitful week together!

In case you want to know more about the experience, feel free to contact me (foodlawlatest@gmail.com or 00393495275567) or write directly to summeracademy@albertoalemanno.eu.

Click here to apply and read participant’s feedbacks about the former editions.

To download the 2016 final programme, please click here.