Alcohol nutrition facts. EU law causes stir amongst producers

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The European Commission compulsory labelling report imposes additional requirements for alcoholic drinks, notably wine and beer. According to some, this represents solely a needless further cost to small and medium businesses.

by Emanuela De Pinto, translated by Philippa Cole

On one side of things there is consumer right to be progressively more informed on what they are buying, on the other the resentment of many small and medium wine and beer producers, suffocated by a bureaucracy which imposes the same investments upon them as upon much larger businesses. Niche manufacturers simply cannot count on the same level of economic resources.

The diatribe this time is generated by the report on compulsory labelling presented on 13th March by the European Commission. An act with which Brussels intends to oblige businesses to indicate all ingredients used and the nutritional value of the product on the label (including the calorie content) of all alcoholic beverages of 1.2% ABV or higher. The margin of adaptation time is one year: within the year producers need to find a solution to the issue, otherwise (and it sounds like a threat) the same Commission will set in motion an impact assessment – a sort of informal referendum – and will impose an automatic regulation for all.

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The position of the producer

While Federvini, the association of wine industries, deems the report “a proof of maturity for the sector within the 28 member states”, representing positive aspects for Italy (for example key elements of greater clarity being introduced for consumers), the Associations of the Agricultural Sector are firm on a ‘no’ partnership. The Italian Confederation of Farmers (Cia) talks of “additional bureaucratic burdens and additional costs, which would inevitably go on to weigh heavily on the final product for consumers. Given that we are talking about wine in particular, a product coming from the natural fermentation of grapes, not from large scale industrial production, “it is unthinkable to create labels for each and every type of wine produced in Italy”, not forgetting that over 500 known appellations exist in Italy today.

Of the same opinion is Confagricoltura, General Confederation of Italian Agriculture, arguing that the formulation of this measure is mistaken. “The nutrition facts label and ingredients list do not come into consideration when selecting wine. The consumer knows that wine is high in calories, searching instead based on taste, tradition and uniqueness, which no doubt will not be found on a nutrition facts label”. According to Confagricoltura “consumer demands for this type of labelling information relate primarily to sweetened alcoholic drinks (so-called Alco pops for example), which differ greatly from wine and, therefore, the approach of the Commission should reflect such distinction. The suggestion would be to replace the nutrition facts table, on a voluntary basis, with an indication of the calorie content per glass.

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Coldiretti, the National Federation of Small Independent Farmers, criticises that “the nutrition facts label on wine and other alcoholic beverages must not manifest as a needless rise in red tape for wine-making businesses. It is these small-medium businesses which are making significant contributions to Italy’s new export records, 5.6 billion in 2016”. Adding that “the same desire for transparency should be guaranteed equally in other aspects of the wine-making industry, which is currently damaging Italian producers and consumers across the world, for example the accorded possibility from the UE for Northern European countries to increase the alcoholic content of wine by using sugar (a practice banned in Italy), or the permission to sell pseudo wine obtained from ‘miraculous powder’ and added water.

An oenologist’s opinion:

Umbrian Riccardo Cotarella, president of Assoenologi and one of the most important wine experts internationally, gave us his opinion. According to Cotarella, the European Report “risks making consumers believe that wine is a strange hotchpotch of  substances, whilst it is really no more than the product of natural grape fermentation, especially now that producers have learned how to eliminate any foreign substance in the grape and use greatly reduced quantities of added sulphites”. “Formulated in this way, the measure will alienate consumers from the product, aside from representing yet another weight on the shoulders of businesses. Wine is not a food product like all others, rather pleasure and culture combined, additional tables just don’t make sense”. “I would agree – Cotarella concludes – only if it were a rule applying to all producers, such as those in South America and Australia, who today represent the major rivals to European producers. But in its current state, Europe risks to give the advantage to its own competitors”.

 

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