Do any of you recall asking your local MEP, or anyone for that matter, to lobby on your behalf and have the ingredients and calorie counts emblazoned on the side of your favourite whisky or bottle of Chateau Margaux? I assume very many of us must have done– perhaps at the end of a long evening of consuming said beverages – which would explain why we can’t remember doing it. Because the European Commission has answered our call and given the alcohol industry 12 months to do it themselves, or have it done for them.
The Commission is graciously allowing private business the narrowest of opportunities to escape the grasping arm of state regulation, but there is little doubt what is at stake here. With just one year for all alcohol producers – from giant pubcos to start-up microbreweries, and every vineyard and distillery in between – to get together, agree on uniform labelling, and implement it to the satisfaction of the Commission, it is clear the endgame is increased EU interference in the regulation of the industry.
We already have the precedent of tobacco to guide us here. You may remember, back in the day, the Commission insisted that the quantity of nicotine – which is harmless in small quantities – be listed on every product, causing unnecessary confusion, if not alarm, to smokers. Now it wants booze-producers to publicise figures about a neutral value – namely, calories – in isolation from any meaningful context.
Will it actually bring any real benefit? Not as far as one can see, yet it keeps cropping up. No doubt it will ignore the fact that different types of alcohol with different calorie ratios are also consumed in different quantities on different occasions. (Can one really compare an alcopop to a glass of champagne?) But in truth, this is more about control over the labelling itself, and restraining the freedoms of companies and their brands.
Allowing the commission greater powers of what goes on the labels of alcoholic drinks, especially when demanding they are all uniform, is just a short step away from imposing uniform, and then plain, packs on all offending products. It represents a power grab by unelected European politicians and bureaucrats, at the behest of health nuts. It is an extraordinary brash example of the EU trying to wipe away the hard-won rights of its citizens: in this instance, the right to brand one’s own product.
Even large companies shouldn’t be subjected to this sort of illiberalism; and as ever, it is the small ones that will suffer most. But the real kicker is that these small producers – independent businesses owners whose products pose a negligible threat to the population – will face the most uncertain futures. When these crafts are built on their branding, what hope do they have if their right to brand is dissolved?
It’s a good thing that so many people must have asked for this to happen. It’d be dreadful if it transpired that this had all come about when absolutely no one beyond the corridors of power held any desire to see it.