EU winemakers seek WTO help to block Ireland’s cancer labeling plan and say court cases are next

An escalating row has pitted Ireland’s plans to introduce cigarette-style cancer warning labels on alcohol bottles against EU winemakers, who have now called on the World Trade Organization to intervene.

Several EU countries have already asked the European Commission to help Ireland stop the new Department of Health’s planned labels, which they say breach single market rules.

Ignacio Sánchez Recarte, chairman of the EU wine producers’ organization CEEV, said the next step after the World Trade Organization (WTO) would be the EU courts.

“Now is the time for the international partners at WTO level to reiterate their concerns about the Irish proposal,” said Mr Sánchez Recarte.

“Will Ireland listen to them or remain deaf to comments from EU partners? I have strong doubts about every reaction. Little can be done without action by the European Commission. I think only the Court of Justice of the European Union would be able to defend the EU at this stage.”

The new labels will include warnings about liver disease and a direct link between alcohol and “deadly cancer,” as well as a logo advising against drinking alcohol during pregnancy, new measurements of alcohol content and a link to a healthy drinking website.

The labeling proposals were included in the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018, which already introduced minimum unit prices. At the time, several non-EU countries – including the US, Canada, Mexico and Australia – submitted comments to the bloc on the law.

Matters came to a head late last year after an internal consultation process led 13 EU countries – including big winemakers Italy, France and Spain – to criticize Ireland’s move.

Despite the objections, the European Commission said in January that Ireland could proceed with the labels.

Italy’s largest farmers’ union, Coldiretti, described the “labels” as “alarming” and “terrifying” and the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Antonio Tajani said Ireland’s move was “absurd”.

Spanish Agriculture Minister Luis Planas has called on EU countries to submit a joint complaint to the WTO.

Nine EU countries – led by Spain – wrote to the European Commission last week to urge the bloc’s executive to speak to the health ministry here to prevent trade barriers in the single market.

The EU intends to present its own health warning labels later this year, it recently said in its €4 billion plan to fight cancer.

In submissions to the Commission as part of last year’s consultation process, Italy, France and other countries asked Ireland to await this proposal before proceeding.

The regulations will not ban imports of mislabeled wine bottles.

It would be up to importers to put the necessary health warnings and information on the bottles before selling them in Ireland.

Cork-based wine importer Michael Barry, managing director of Barry & Fitzwilliam, recently told this newspaper that the rules are “draconian” and will cost smaller wine merchants. EU winemakers seek WTO help to block Ireland’s cancer labeling plan and say court cases are next

Fry Electronics Team

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