Drinks makers hit out at ‘solo run’ on alcohol labels

Ireland has technically cleared a WTO approval process, though the matter has yet to be discussed politically at a meeting scheduled for June 21

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the new law would give consumers a better understanding of the risks associated with consuming alcohol. Photo: Niall Carson/PA© Niall Carson

Sarah Collins

Irish drinks makers have hit out at Ireland’s new alcohol labelling law, accusing Health Minister Stephen Donnelly of “zealotry”.

The labels were signed into law today, despite objections from 13 EU member states and comments from international partners, including the UK and US.

From 2026, the new labels must include “fatal cancer" and liver disease warnings, calorie and alcohol content per container, a caution against drinking while pregnant and a link to the HSE’s alcohol website.

“Unfortunately this is an example of zealotry rather than evidence-based legislation,” said Cormac Healy, Director of Drinks Ireland, the Ibec group representing the industry.

“We would call on Government to urgently address these significant international concerns from the EU and beyond, and explain why Ireland is going alone on alcohol labels at a time when harmonised labels are being planned across the EU.

“The Government have been staunch defenders of the harmonised EU market, but is now clearly causing unnecessary tensions with important trading partners. We do not need two labelling systems. The logic remains that Ireland works with the EU on its plans for a harmonised approach.”

Ireland is the first country in the world to link alcohol and fatal cancers on labels.

The World Health Organization says alcohol is a carcinogen and that no amount of alcohol is safe for health.

The European Commission had pledged to draw up new health warning labels for alcohol products by the end of this year. Drinks makers say Ireland should have waited for that legislation rather than going it alone.

Today's News in 90 Seconds - May 22nd

Last week EU beer, wine and spirit makers lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission over Ireland's plans, saying the Government is creating a barrier to trade for the rest of the bloc.

The president of the European Committee of Wine Companies (CEEV), Mauricio Gonzalez-Gordon, has called it “clear discrimination” against EU exporters. French ambassador Vincent Guerend told the Irish Independent recently that it could end small wine makers’ exports to Ireland. Californian wine makers have said the same. Italian farmers and politicians have been even more outspoken, calling the move “absurd" and “draconian".

Earlier this month, a World Trade Organization approval process into the law ended, despite comments from up to 10 countries, including the US, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and Cuba.

It technically gave Ireland the green light to go ahead with the plan, though Drinks Ireland said the Government should at least have waited until Ireland’s international partners had discussed the issue at a planned WTO meeting on June 21.

Last year, eight EU countries, including Spain, France and Italy, lodged official objections during a separate process, with five more registering their concerns. The European Commission approved the law despite the objections, surprising Department of Health officials.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said he looked "forward to other countries following our example”.