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Ireland «surprised» to receive EU green light on alcohol health label

The Irish government is «grateful and somewhat surprised» that the European Commission did not reject their draft regulation for health warning labels on alcohol, despite renewed attempts by other member states to block the proposal.

The draft regulation to the 2018 Irish Public Health (Alcohol) Act, which addresses for the first time alcohol as a public health issue in the Irish legal framework, would require alcohol products to have mandatory health warnings added to their labels, like those on tobacco products.

Any national attempt to regulate food labelling is frowned upon at the European level, as it could fragment the single market by creating different marketing standards and requirements for companies operating in the sector.

For this reason, a proposal for food labelling to apply at a national level and not EU-wide requires a specific approval procedure by the European Commission under the Single Market Transparency Directive (SMTD) and under the 2011 EU regulation on food information to consumers.

The consultation process on the Irish alcohol labelling, conducted by the European Commission’s Technical Regulation Information System (TRIS), was tasked with preventing technical barriers to internal trade. It formally ended on 22 December with no objections raised – a verdict that, procedurally speaking, amounts to tacit approval.

«Clearly what we’re doing is a breach of the single market in some way, in the sense that we’re looking for extra changes to a product compared to the way it’s sold in other countries,» Claire Gordon, manager of the tobacco and alcohol control unit at the Irish Department of Health, explained.

The next steps, she said, will include a notification to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as the new labelling system might be considered an obstacle to international trade.