Food Law News - EU - 2007

European Parliament News Item, 30 January 2007

SPIRITS - Vodka: Environment Committee favours differentiated labelling

In a vote on a draft regulation on the definition and labelling of spirit drinks, the Environment Committee called on Tuesday for differentiated labelling of traditional vodka and other types of vodka. It also came out against the flavouring of spirits as well as voting to preserve Parliament's co-decision powers over the definition of these drinks.

The drinks sector is a key industry in the European Union, for both consumers and producers. Today MEPs backed, albeit with amendments, the Commission's plans to clarify the rules on the definition, labelling and presentation of spirits.

The Environment Committee's report, drafted by Horst Schnellhardt ( EPP-ED , DE ), proposes a differentiated labelling system for vodka. Only if it is produced from cereals, potatoes or molasses should it be described as made in accordance with traditional methods, say MEPs. Mr Schnellhardt said a compromise with the Council could be reached on this point at first reading.

Since the ethyl alcohol of vodka can be obtained from other products (apples, grapes, etc.), MEPs decided that in such cases the product should be mentioned on the label. It should say "produced fromů" followed by the name of the raw material used to produce the ethyl alcohol. And where "vodka" is made of ethyl alcohol derived from two or more agricultural products, it must be called "blended vodka". The minimum alcoholic strength of vodka must be 37.5%.

MEPs believe that existing geographic names should remain valid. They could be supplemented by additional descriptions provided these are regulated at national or regional level or if they are included in the technical specifications, such as "single malt" and/or " Highland " for Scotch whisky. Applications for geographical designations must be duly substantiated by the Member State of origin.

Call to ban flavouring of spirits

The Environment Committee voted to ban flavourings of spirits, contrary to the Commission's proposal. Moreover, say MEPs, the addition of sweeteners should be regulated and they should be mentioned on the bottle label.

The division into three categories proposed by the Commission - "spirits", "specific spirit drinks" and "other spirit drinks" - was rejected by MEPs as superfluous and discriminatory. On the basis that the regulation's purpose is to maintain a high standard for all spirit drinks, MEPs rejected the idea that category A "spirits" should be regarded as of higher quality than category B and C "spirit drinks".

Preserving co-decision for the definition of spirits

The committee believes that the definition of spirit drinks should continue to be governed by the Parliament-Council co-decision procedure. It therefore voted to incorporate Annex II of the draft regulation (on the definition of spirits) into the body of the text (Article 1). The Commission wanted to decide on its own after consulting committees of experts (under the "comitology" procedure).

The committee also looked at the issue of the regulation's legal basis. It agreed with Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee that the entire regulation should be based on Article 95 of the Treaty, on the internal market (which requires co-decision between Parliament and Council), and that the reference to Article 37 (rules on agricultural products, under which Parliament is only consulted) should be dropped.

Two-year transition period

Lastly, MEPs called for a two-year period to smooth the transition from the rules under the old regulation on the definition, labelling and presentation of sprits (Regulation 1576/89) to those of the new regulation.

Note: This was the EP committee discussions. The proposal is subject to the Codecision Procedure, The Parliament 1st reading is espected to reach a Plenary vote at the march Parliamentary session in Strasbourg

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