Trade bodies representing Europe’s alcoholic drinks sector have presented a proposal to the European Union’s (EU) executive body, the European Commission, committing them to provide more details about the ingredients and nutritional content of products.

Nutritional content will be provided per 100ml, as is standard for beverage labelling guidelines, and per serving, as a result of protests from the spirits sector, which claimed that the 100ml measure is misleading as it is more than three times higher than the EU’s recommended serving of spirits.

The proposed idea is for individual alcohol producers to be able to decide whether to place information on labels, online or both. Any online information will be available through a web link or a QR code on the product’s label.

The industry claims the online options mean more information can be provided for consumers and that it is common for people to use the internet to find out more about products they consume.

spiritsEUROPE director general Ulrich Adam said: “As part of our commitment to boost consumer information online, the European Travel Retail Confederation has been contracted to develop a pilot project which will make multilingual product information directly accessible to consumers, by scanning the barcode on the packaging via a smartphone, scanner facilities in-store or online.

“Our aim is to provide harmonised and consistent information that is available to any consumer anytime, anywhere – and in their own language. This is made possible by the rapidly evolving digital technologies and is confirmed by recent research which shows that consumers are increasingly turning to digital and mobile sources of information before, during and after shopping.”

Consumer organisations and public health associations have, however, criticised the online labelling proposal, with the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) saying online-only information would be unsatisfactory.

BEUC director general Monique Goyens said in a statement: “As consumers make shopping decisions in a matter of seconds, it is unrealistic to expect they will take a few minutes to check online how calorific wine or vodka is.” She added that one in three consumers does not own a smartphone.

European Alcohol Policy Alliance secretary general Mariann Skar agreed, saying: “We do not have to go online to find information for milk or orange juice, why should we for wine?”

President of Standing Committee of European Doctors Dr Jacques de Haller said: “Consumers have a right to know. Often they may not realise that many alcoholic beverages contain a lot of sugar. This fact shouldn’t be hidden somewhere online.”

Drinks with an alcohol content of more than 1.2% alcohol by volume were exempted from the EU labelling rules that came into force in 2014, which were applied to other food and drink products. The EU instead called on the alcohol sector to self-regulate with regard to informative labelling.

Last year, following a recommendation published in a report into food labelling and adopted by the EU, the European Commission gave the continent’s drinks industry a year to come up with a ‘harmonious approach’ to be adopted as European standard.

If the European Commission is not satisfied by the trading bodies’ proposal, it will launch an impact assessment to review alternative options.