David Martin MEP

Labour Member of the European Parliament and one of the six MEPs representing Scotland in Brussels and Strasbourg

Heavy Drinking

The Highland News, April 2015

Ever since the BSE outbreak, and more recently the horsemeat scandal, we have become acutely aware of the need to be better informed about the food we eat and feed to our families. There are lot of aspects of this issue that are best legislated at the European level, therefore the European Parliament regularly considers plans for more information to be included in the labelling of our food and drink.

Much work has been done on this already, but there is one significant food group that hasn't been included in any labelling contents so far. Alcohol. Alcoholic drinks that contain more than 1.2% alcohol by volume are exempt from EU regulations on nutritional labelling that came in to force in 2011 covering all food and soft drink.

What is really in the wine, cider, beer and spirits that so many of us pop into the supermarket trolley along with the rest of our provisions? Many people are completely unaware of the calories they are consuming in the form of alcohol. I was shocked to find out that a medium glass of white wine has 130 calories, similar to an average chocolate bar, while two pints of beer has more calories than a cheeseburger.

During this April’s Strasbourg Plenary MEPs voted to request the European Commission to evaluate whether requirements for information on ingredients and nutritional content should apply to alcoholic beverages, but also insisted that the calorie content of such drinks should be clearly stated. The measure was recommended as part of the new EU Alcohol Strategy, which aims to assist national governments in dealing with alcohol-related harm. In addition, MEPs recommended that states consider implementing measures against the sale of ‘very cheap alcohol’, while the Commission should look to tackling the cross-border sales of alcohol via the internet.

In a recent article in The British Medical Journal, Fiona Sim, chairwoman of the Royal Society for Public Health informed that among adults who drink, an estimated 10% of their daily calorie intake comes from alcohol. Yet a recent survey found that 80% of the 2,117 adults questioned did not know the calorie content of common drinks, and most were completely unaware that alcohol contributed to the total calories they consumed.

While some alcoholic-drink manufacturers have voluntarily begun to introduce nutritional labelling, I and my Labour colleagues do not think it is acceptable that it is not mandatory for all producers of alcoholic beverages to state the ingredients of their products or to provide nutritional information about them.

In order to reduce the burden of alcohol-related harm, we must make sure people are given clear information to enable them to make informed choices.

Consumers should expect and deserve to be informed about what they are buying, and I don't see any reason why alcohol should be treated differently. While we are suffering the simultaneous problem of obesity and chronic over-drinking across Europe, and especially in Scotland, the calorie content of all alcoholic drinks should be clearly indicated.


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