The Republic of Ireland plans to introduce warning labels to all alcohol products, due to take effect in 2026, and dozens of countries have complained that the effect is “disproportionate.”
“I welcome that we are the first country in the world to take this step and introduce comprehensive health labeling of alcohol products,” Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told reporters this week. “I look forward to other countries following our example.”
Other countries include warning labels on alcohol products, but Ireland’s labels will include much more information.
The new labels will include the product’s calorie content and the number of grams of alcohol in addition to a general warning about the risks of alcohol consumption – the dangers of drinking while pregnant as well as the risks of liver disease and fatal cancers, the BBC reported.
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“This law is designed to give all of us as consumers a better understanding of the alcohol content and health risks associated with consuming alcohol,” Donnelly said.
An annual health survey in Ireland found that around 22% of the country’s population between the ages of 15 and 34 could be considered “binge drinkers,” with 13% of drinkers saying they consume more alcohol now than they did at the start of COVID-19. The survey also found that 79% of respondents didn’t know about the risk of breast cancer from drinking in excess, 60% didn’t know about the risk of bowel cancer, and 7% believed it was safe to drink small amounts while pregnant.
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The delayed start is meant to provide businesses a chance to prepare for the change, but it has predictably prompted some disagreement from major alcohol exporters and sellers.
Thirteen European Union members, of which Ireland is a member, have raised concerns over the labeling. France, Italy and Spain have led the dissent, with Italian Ambassador to Ireland Ruggero Corrias saying the plan was “totally disproportionate.”
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“There is nothing wrong with the warnings, the point is the warnings should be proportionate and, in this case, since you’re talking about wine, saying that drinking alcohol on a bottle of wine causes liver disease is totally disproportionate,” Corrias complained.
Several groups, including the European Committee of Wine Companies, have filed formal complaints with the European Commission against the new labels, arguing that they support Ireland’s efforts to fight alcohol abuse but that the hit to businesses may prove too costly, NPR reported.
But the Irish health ministry said it had informed Brussels of its regulatory changes in June last year and received no complaints during the required six-month standstill period. Donnelly told the Financial Times that deferring the change was a “flat no.”
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Another 10 countries outside of Ireland, including the U.K., U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Mexico, have also lodged complaints with the World Trade Organization, which will discuss the concerns at a Technical Barriers to Trade committee meeting on June 21.
Reuters contributed to this report.