Ireland Faces International Opposition as It Implements Landmark Law Requiring Health Warnings, Calories on Alcohol Labels
Today, the Republic of Ireland’s health minister signed into law new alcohol labeling requirements. This makes Ireland the first country to require alcoholic beverages to display the calories, grams of alcohol, and warnings of cancer risk and liver disease. The labels will also warn consumers about the dangers of drinking while pregnant. The law has been met with criticism and opposition from the alcohol industry.
Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly said, “I welcome that we are the first country in the world to take this step and introduce comprehensive health labeling of alcohol products. I look forward to other countries following our example.”
The law becomes part of the Public Health (Alcohol) (Labelling) Regulations 2023 and the remaining provisions of Section 12 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act. It is set to take effect from May 22, 2026. The three-year period is meant to allow businesses the time necessary to adjust to the new policy.
Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly said, “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. With that information, we can make an informed decision about our own alcohol consumption. ”
The new rules reportedly copy existing laws for the labeling of food and non-alcoholic drink products. Donnelly said, “Packaging of other food and drink products already contains health information and, where appropriate, health warnings. This law is bringing alcohol products into line with that.”
Ireland began plans to change alcohol labeling last year and at the time the European Commission made no objections. However, several European member states protested the proposition including Italy and Spain.
According to The Guardian, one of Itay’s biggest farmers’ associations Coldiretti said, “The green light from the European Union for alarmist wine labels in Ireland represents a dangerous precedent as it risks opening the door to other legislation capable of negatively influencing consumer choices.”
Ireland is by no means a large consumer market but it appears producers are fearful of other countries jumping on board with new labeling requirements that include health warnings.
Last week, spiritsEUROPE announced it submitted a formal complaint asking the European Commission to investigate Ireland’s new policy. The spirits organization argues that Ireland is in breach of EU law because it deviates from EU harmonized labeling rules.
Director General of spiritsEUROPE, Ulrich Adam said, “For good reasons, the right to restrict the freedom of movement of goods in the single market is subject to strict rules: trade barriers must be justified and proportionate, meaning that no other options, less restrictive of the trade between Member States are available to Ireland. We believe Ireland has failed to demonstrate the admissibility of their measures on both these criteria.”
As RTE reported, up to 10 countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and Cuba have launched inquiries and criticism regarding the law through the World Trade Organization.
“Unfortunately this is an example of zealotry rather than evidence-based legislation,” said Cormac Healy, Director of Drinks Ireland.
Healy continued, “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 harmonized labels are being planned across the EU.”
Since Ireland is the first country to introduce these rules, it means products sold in the country will require special labels. A possible unintended consequence may be Ireland losing out on a selection of alcohol products, if producers are unwilling to comply with these rules. It also means Irish producers will need to create two labels in order to export products. Ireland’s announcement has left many wondering if the government may have jumped the gun on this new policy.
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