Food Law News - EU - 2007

EP News, 19 June 2007

SPIRITS - Vodka 'whisky whiskey' definitions go down smoothly for MEPs

MEPs adopted first-reading report and settled on a definition of vodka that would allow the drink to be produced from any agricultural material, provided that it was appropriately labelled. The co-decision report by Horst Schnellhardt ( EPP-ED , DE) was adopted in Strasbourg today, setting out the definitions and labelling of spirit drinks in the EU. The first-reading compromise with the Council, clears the way for the regulation to come before a final Council vote probably in September.

The Commission's proposal had originally suggested establishing three categories of spirit drinks, which the EP's Environment Committee rejected, arguing for a single category of 'spirit drinks'. This single category is maintained in the compromise with the Council, as well. Although the Environment Committee had argued for a two-year transitional period, the compromise on the table would apply three months after the entry into force of the regulation.

Vodka: controversial until the last drop

The most hotly debated point in the vote centred around the definition and labelling of vodka. The Environment Committee's proposal had suggested that traditional vodka only be made from grain, potatoes or sugar beet molasses. Vodkas made from other raw materials would have had to clearly indicate what they were made from, with a large label on the bottle (2/3 of the size of the word 'Vodka' on the label).

The adopted compromise with the Council foresees a slightly different approach: traditional vodka could only be made from grain or potatoes (not molasses), and other raw materials would only be allowed to be used if they were clearly indicated on the label. The size of this label, however, would not be specified.

Some MEPs from traditional vodka-producing Member States (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Sweden) would have preferred to only allow the name 'vodka' to be applied to spirits made from grain, potatoes and molasses, but their amendments failed to garner enough support among MEPs.

Traditional whisky names safeguarded

The House voted for existing geographical names to remain valid. These could be supplemented by additional descriptions provided they are regulated at national or regional level or are included in the technical specifications, such as "single malt" and/or " Highland " for Scotch whisky. Applications for geographical designations must justified by the Member State of origin. This point is unchanged by the compromise.

Co-decision and flavourings: the end of a spirited debate

The Committee's proposal not to allow flavouring of spirits was maintained by the compromise with Council, as was their call to maintain existing geographical designations. On the other hand, the Committee's insistence that any change to these regulations be subject to the co-decision procedure was not accepted by Council, so the definitions of individual spirit drinks (laid down in Annexes to the Regulation) will be subject to comitology.

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