Alcohol Drinks Will Carry Cancer Warnings

Hands of three men toasting with beer

The Alcohol drinks lobby says Ireland’s food and drinks industry will become a global pariah, as the Government looks set to introduce cancer warning labels on all alcohol products sold in Ireland, including craft beer, artisan gin and quality whiskey.

The Government will now not remove the proposal to add cancer warnings to alcohol products, stating that the measure would impact the reputation of Ireland’s quality drinks brands.

There had been reports Minister Simon Harris was to drop the proposal from the Public Health Alcohol Bill. However, the Minister will bring forward the cancer labels, though he noted it may make it more difficult for the legislation to be cleared under EU rules. The Minister has said it is his intention to clearly highlight the link between alcohol and cancer.

Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland said that measures in the Alcohol Bill should be proportionate and evidence-based and that the idea of picking and choosing one disease over the other health risks and/or benefits associated with alcohol consumption was confusing and nonsensical.

Patricia Callan, Director of Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) said:

“We all agree that alcohol misuse and underage drinking should be addressed, and we support the objective of the Alcohol Bill in this regard. But it is imperative that the end result is a piece of legislation that is effective, evidence-based, compliant with EU law, and does not do undue harm to an important Irish industry.

“As an industry we support giving consumers factual information to help them make an informed choice about their health. But this is exactly why a sweeping and heavy-handed ‘alcohol causes cancer’ statement makes little sense. Many studies on alcohol consumption show a J-shaped relationship between alcohol and health, whereby a low level of consumption can result in certain health benefits, whereas a high level of consumption is associated with increased health risks. The relationship between alcohol and health is complex and it’s important that people are properly educated and informed about this.

“Focusing on one health issue alone (cancer) does not give a full or accurate picture to help consumers make an informed choice about their drinking. The World Health Organisation report published last week showed that most alcohol-related deaths worldwide in 2016 were as a result of injuries. This was followed by digestive diseases, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, infectious diseases, followed by cancers. Warning labels should be proportionate to the risks faced by consumers, but cancer labels would not give consumers a proportionate view of the impact of alcohol consumption.

“The legislation already provides for a general health warning that will specifically warn against excessive consumption of alcohol. No other country in the world requires mandatory cancer warning labels and imposing such a label will cause substantial reputational damage to our quality brands by applying a stigma to products produced in Ireland.

“This will impact jobs, investment and innovation, creating a barrier to trade both into and out of Ireland.

“Every stakeholder involved in the debate around this legislation wants the Alcohol Bill implemented as soon as possible so we can tackle alcohol misuse and underage drinking. This move to require cancer labels could impact this swift progress. As the Government noted yesterday, while the European Commission did not issue a negative opinion on the cancer labelling provision when notified, the inclusion of cancer warnings is likely to make it more difficult to get the provisions on labelling and advertising cleared by the EU assessment process.

“It is concerning that the Government is putting its own legislation at risk and is throwing up huge uncertainty by folding to pressure from the anti-alcohol lobby.”

The move by Minister Harris to require cancer warnings follows a cross-party group of TDs submitting amendments to the Alcohol Bill. One of these amendments would have removed the requirement for cancer warnings to be added to alcohol products. Another, if passed, would ensure distillery and brewery visitor centres are exempt from the strict advertising restrictions that are set to be introduced.

Speaking about these amendments Pat Rigney the Managing Director and Founder of The Shed Distillery in Co. Leitrim, which produces the world renowned Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin said:

“I’m strongly in favour of these amendments as they will help protect rural jobs, the reputation of Ireland’s food and drinks industry and the economy as a whole. Our distillery is based in rural Ireland, in Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim where it continues to create valuable local employment and drive tourist footfall.

“Since setting up in 2014, we have invested over €4 million in the local area.

“We are also currently investing €2m in our new visitor centre, which will drive local tourism and create jobs when it re-opens. This continued investment and growth should not be put at risk. It’s vital that these amendments are passed in full to protect our rural and national food and drinks economy.”

Seamus O’Hara, the CEO of the Carlow Brewing Company said:

“Ireland is experiencing a craft beer revolution at the moment and consumers are becoming more adventurous in their choices, with a range of new products on the market. The craft beer industry is creating an environment where customers are more interested in moderate consumption, and quality is finally becoming far more important than quantity. 22% of beer produced by Irish microbreweries in 2016 was exported to international markets. The continued growth of the sector is reliant on exports. Creating labels for individual markets would be unsustainable for breweries of our size. The health and well-being of our customers is paramount and we strongly feel it is the combined responsibility of breweries, publicans, off-licences, retailers and government to promote the positive message of moderation and balance.”

Michael Scully, the Founder and CEO of Clonakilty Distillery in Co. Cork said:

“These amendments are vital as we need the freedom to be able to innovate and introduce new products to the home-market, without the threat of reputationally damaging cancer warning labels being added to our products. Earlier this year, we launched our new Minke Gin to the market, which would have been hugely challenging if the Alcohol Bill was in place as it stands.

“We expect to be launching our new Visitor experience later this year, which over time will bring much needed extra business and revenue to the town of Clonakilty. If we are not able to advertise this without restrictions, our hands would be tied behind our backs before we even started, which is again why these amendments are important.”

John Quinn, Global Brand Ambassador of Offaly’s Tullamore DEW said:

“We are growing our business around the world and our distillery and visitor centre are very important elements of that drive. The new bill would not allow us to direct tourists to our visitor centre. The amendments would ensure that the tourists to Offaly will be directed to the home of the whiskey they enjoy in their home country. This tourist attraction is a very important contributor to the economy of the town and county of Offaly.”