Another parliamentary question about coloured Sambuca – The Commission Answer

We are following with great interest this case of possible fraud. Here the last parliamentary question to EU Commission, with the recent answer by Commissioner Ciolos; in the links at the end of the article you can find much more info about the case.

Question for written answer P-003034/2014 to the Commission

Iva Zanicchi (PPE)

Subject: Clarification on the marketing of coloured ‘sambuca’ drinks, with particular reference to the law on compound terms

In its answer to question E-012362/2013 the Commission stated that the marketing of coloured products bearing the name ‘sambuca’ is contrary to Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 on the description, presentation, and labelling of spirit drinks.

However, according to the Commission’s interpretation, the regulation does allow the word ‘sambuca’ to be used in compound terms (‘strawberry sambuca’, for example), provided that the alcohol originates entirely from the spirit drink referred to (in this case from anise, the basic constituent of sambuca liqueur). This interpretation is further supported by Regulation (EU) No 716/2013, which is due to enter into force on 1 March 2015.

In the light of the foregoing, and with particular reference to the law on compound terms, can the Commission answer the following questions:

  1. When it drew up the above provisions, how far did the Commission allow for the fact that the traditional sambuca production method uses alcohol distilled from other ingredients (potato, marc, grain) as well as anise and that if sambuca were made only with alcohol produced from anise, it would be undrinkable?
  2. How will it make Member States ensure compliance with the rules on compound terms until Regulation (EU) No 716/2013 has entered into force?
  3. Can the rules on compound terms be considered applicable when essential defining characteristics of protected drinks – the colourlessness of sambuca being one example – are turned on their head?

Answer given by Mr Cioloș on behalf of the Commission, 9th April 2014

Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 defines ‘sambuca’ as: ‘… a colourless aniseed-flavoured liqueur: (i) containing distillates of anise (Pimpinella anisum L.), star anise (Illicium verum L.) or other aromatic herbs, …’. According to the same Annex, ‘liqueur’ is ‘… a spirit drink … produced by flavouring ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin or a distillate of agricultural origin or one or more spirit drinks or a mixture thereof, …’. Therefore, ‘sambuca’, as other liqueurs, may be produced with ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin and distillate of agricultural origin.

Regulation (EC) No 716/2013 establishes, among others, the labelling rules for the use of compound terms that include the name of a spirit drink category. In order to give to Member States the time needed to implement these rules, the application of Articles 3 and 4 of that regulation have been deferred until 1st March 2015.

As pointed out in the answer of the Commission to Question E-12362/2013(3), a spirit drink can bear on its label a compound term combining the name of a spirit drink category and the name of a foodstuff that has been added to it, for example ‘strawberry sambuca’, only if the alcohol contained in the final product comes exclusively from the spirit drink mentioned in the compound term, in this case ‘sambuca’.

The added foodstuff may modify the colour of the spirit drink category used. The correct information of the consumer is conveyed through the compound term indicated on the label, which may not appear in a larger font size than that of the sales denomination.

The answer of the Commission is quite vague and try to anticipate the entry into application of the Regulation 716/2013 on the use of compound terms. It’s a fact that this interpretation is done on a Regulation which is not now in force.

In Italy the sanitary branch of Carabinieri (NAS) done several seizures of the counterfeit liqueur – present also on the stand of the international EXPO Vinitaly, in Verona – and in UK Defra issued some notes about sambuca requirements to avoid frauds, but this are single interventions on a complex and international fraud, which will require a more unitary action in EU to be stopped.

Related articles


Written answer of the EU Commission on counterfeit Sambuca

Following my former article on the Parliamentary question filed by Linda McAvan (S&D), on 31st October 2013, Mara Bizzotto and Giancarlo Scottà, here below the official position of the Commission:

19 December 2013
Answer given by Mr Cioloș on behalf of the Commission
According to the definition of the category ‘sambuca’, included in point 38 of Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the definition, description, presentation, labelling and the protection of geographical indications of spirit drinks, ‘Sambuca is a colourless aniseed-flavoured liqueur…’. Consequently, the absence of colour is one of the essential conditions for the conformity of the product with the definition of ‘sambuca’.However, Article (10)1 of Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 allows the use of the names of categories listed in Annex II as part of a compound terms or as an allusion provided that ‘… the alcohol originates exclusively from the spirit drink(s) referred to.’

Therefore, a spirit drink containing ‘sambuca’ and a coloured foodstuff can be described by a compound term which includes the term ‘sambuca’ jointly with the name of the foodstuff used (for example, ‘Strawberry sambuca’), provided that all the alcohol used comes exclusively from ‘sambuca’. The final product, in this case, will be coloured and the sales denomination will not be ‘sambuca’ but ‘spirit drink’ or ‘liqueur’, according to its composition.

The Commission has been alerted on trade of Sambuca which could be in breach of the relevant EU definition and informed the concerned Member State, who is currently enquiring. Member States are responsible for the control of spirit drinks and for taking the necessary measures to ensure compliance of spirit drinks with EU rules.

The Commission, as usual, it’s quite cautious about the enforcement of the Regulation, for which are responsible the Member States; but also the interpretation about the definition of Sambuca is quite ambiguous.

It’s clear, anyway, how a coloured liqueur must be named “spirit drink” or “liqueur” and not “Sambuca”, which must be colourless.