The Irish Whiskey Association (IWA), a lobby group representing the Irish whiskey industry, has clashed with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) after it raised concerns over labelling requirements.
Label guidelines in Irish whiskey has proven to be a controversial issue, with the Irish Distillers Association previously claiming to DAFM that alleged mislabelling is a “threat” to the sector’s credibility. It has pointed out previously that few Irish brands are distilled in places shown on labels.
According to an email, the IWA recently contacted a group of members after it became aware that the Department, which assumed the role for whiskey label approval in January, had been imposing “new requirements” for brand owners or those who have not produced their own whiskey. The email said the requirements consisted of stating “produced for” on the back of the label for such whiskeys, even where there is “no claim as to provenance”.
“The imposition of these requirements were not discussed or communicated to industry,” read the email. “Furthermore, we believe that this requirement should not be mandatory. DAFM have stated that this is not a new requirement and is simply a continuation of what the FSAI (Food Safety Authority of Ireland) previously required.”
The email added that the IWA was aware many members voluntarily applied this statement to their labels. It asked members to advise if their company had been required to amend labels to get approval from DAFM, and to provide the IWA with the reasoning given requiring for the amendment.
In response to the Sunday Independent, the IWA said strengthening Irish whiskey labelling guidelines had been identified by members as a “priority”.
“The association regularly engages with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine on a range of issues affecting our members. Currently, the association is in discussion with the Department on the application of labelling requirements that are either mandatory or voluntary under EU law.”
Earlier this year, the issue of labelling was raised by independent TD Catherine Connolly in a question to DAFM. She asked Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue if he was aware that an unnamed whiskey association had complained to the EU about DAFM allegedly not enforcing EU regulation regarding spirit provenance.
McConalogue said he was aware of the allegation, adding where businesses are not directly involved in any stages of production, DAFM does not approve the label unless it states that the product has been “produced for them”. He added DAFM does not permit references to distilleries that do not exist.
DAFM did not respond to a request for comment.
Separately, the Sunday Independent has seen a draft copy of the IWA’s strategy for 2022 to 2026. In a section regarding goals and objectives for the period, the IWA said it would work with the relevant authorities to strengthen the “Irish whiskey labelling guidelines to protect the integrity of the Irish whiskey category and to protect consumers”.
In the draft strategy, the IWA carried out an assessment for the years 2026 to 2030 with a view to informing the association’s future strategy. It was based on input from members, the IWA executive and reference to third-party sources such as the International Wines and Spirits Record (IWSR).
According to the assessment, global sales could grow by at least 700,000 cases per year. It added sales of 20 million cases by 2030 was “possible”.
The rate of new distilleries would reduce, according to the assessment, with the total number expected to settle at around 45 to 50. It anticipates merger and acquisition activity with new international investment in the industry.
The strategy also noted there would be a “new priority focus” on sustainability.