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Diageo move on alcohol labelling underlines need for legal obligatory rule

Alyn Smith MEP has criticised an announcement yesterday from drinks giant Diageo on the provision of nutritional information on their drinks products as a half hearted and grudging step in the right direction and urged the European Commission to press on with plans for a legally binding obligatory regime across the whole of the EU.  Today's announcement gives no timescale and makes few concrete commitments.

SHAAP (Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems) has joined Alyn in criticising the limited move from Diageo.

Presently, alcohol is exempted from the EU rules which oblige the provision of information on ingredients such as sugar, salt and carbohydrates, while non-alcoholic products need to provide consumers with clarity on the packaging.  Alyn has been a long term campaigner for labelling transparency, and as far back as 2011 hosted a major conference in Brussels "what's not on the bottle" which brought campaigners together to press for alcohol to be treated the same way as other foodstuffs.

Diageo has today, with some corporate PR fanfare, announced that it will provide a greater degree of information on a voluntary basis.  Alyn has welcomed this, but warned that piecemeal voluntary action is no substitute for a properly binding legal regime, especially when the drinks industry is currently taking the Scottish government to court over minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

Alyn said:

"This is welcome news, but I'm in no mood to praise Diageo for doing what they should have been doing all along, especially when I have watched them and the various drinks industry front organisations in Brussels fight this tooth and nail at every step.

"Diageo remains a major player in the Scotch Whisky Association which has, shamefully, taken the Scottish government to the European Court of Justice to delay the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol, making quite clear that their own profits come before the health of the nation.

"People have a right to information so they can make informed choices.  If the makers of Irn Bru and Red Cola are obliged to tell consumers what they are drinking, so should the alcohol industry.  All we are looking for is for the drinks industry to be brought into the same treatment as every other drink or foodstuff.

"No amount of glossy corporate PR can disguise the fact that this is simply the drinks industry catching up with public opinion.  Some 79% of EU citizens want to see proper information and health warnings on alcohol labels, the industry should fall into line now."

Peter Rice Chair of SHAAP (Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems) and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist with NHS Tayside said:

"This is a very limited action by Diageo, who will be aware that health campaigners have been calling for ingredient labelling, health impact messages and nutritional information on alcohol products to bring them into line with other products.

"It’s therefore disappointing to see that their action is restricted to only one of these requirements. This action after several years of discussion shows the limitations of self-regulation and highlights the need for regulation to ensure that consumers are properly informed. "