I know what I'm drinking – Polish version | In Principle

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I know what I'm drinking – Polish version

Consultations have ended on a draft amendment of the Act on Sobriety Education and Countering of Alcoholism as well as the Food Safety and Nutrition Act. They are to raise the awareness of consumers and help them make informed choices, now in relation to alcoholic beverages.

What must an alcoholic beverage label now include?

Presently, the scope of mandatory information is quite narrow. In practice, it is essentially indication of the alcohol beverage name, allergens (if present), alcohol content, net product quantity, best before or consumption expiry date as well as data identifying the entity placing  the product on the market (producer, distributor or importer). A consumer, therefore, will not learn the calorie count of an alcoholic beverage or whether it has added sugar, aromas or colouring. Obviously, some producers voluntarily provide detailed information on ingredients and provide warnings, for example, with regard to age and drinking during pregnancy, but these are a minority.

Following the Commission report  from March of last year (about which we wrote here) it became clear that current liberal provisions on the labelling of alcohol will be subject to thorough criticism. The report showed that consumers more frequently expect detailed information on acquired products, also with regard to alcoholic beverages. The deadline set by the European Commission for the drinks industry to propose such solutions to the Commission that address the specific nature of alcoholic beverages while also ensuring effective consumer protection throughout the entire EU will expire in March 2018. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health in Poland is working on its own solutions in this regard.

Regulation instead of self-regulation?

The draft imposes a requirement upon producers, distributors and importers of alcoholic beverages to list ingredients on the label together with information on nutrition value.

The list of ingredients on a product label must comply with Regulation 1169/2011 on consumer information on, among others, the order of ingredients on the list, their names and technological function. Analogously, information on nutrition must be in line with regulations set forth in this Regulation.

The above requirements are to apply to alcoholic beverages with alcohol content exceeding 1.2% in volume as well as beer (irrespective of alcohol content).

The draft also envisions:

  • a ban on the sale of alcohol in the form of powder, gel or paste (present regulations do not address this issue, which means is that such types of products may be sold),
  • a limitation on the allowed time to advertise beer during night hours, i.e. from 11 pm to 6 am (presently from 8 pm to 6 am),
  • a requirement imposed on alcohol retailers to refuse the sale of alcohol to persons who, upon retailer request, fail to show ID confirming minimum drinking age (violation of this duty may entail criminal liability of the retailer).

Is this the start of stricter regulation of the drinks industry?

The draft amendments are not yet adopted, but foresee changes taking effect on 30 June 2018, with the exception of the requirement to list ingredients and information on nutrition for which a 12-month adaptation period is planned.

This is actually not much time because alcohol beverage producers, in preparing to fulfil new regulatory obligations, should already now analyse their products, for example, from the standpoint of the tendency toward a so-called clean label (minimisation of product ingredients and removal of unnecessary additional substances such as aroma or colouring). Perhaps alcohol producers also face a “label cleaning” previously undertaken, for example, by non-alcoholic beverage or dairy products producers.

Simultaneously, producers should work on changes to communication with consumers, which, in the wake of changes to labelling, will be based to a greater degree on facts surrounding product characteristics. They must also deal with new challenges such as disclosure of the number of calories in alcoholic beverages.

It is not excluded that the draft amendments are only the start of imposing regulatory restrictions on the drinks sector. An unresolved issue is the marking of alcoholic beverages in relation to warnings on minimum age, pregnancy, driving the vehicles as well as risks and effects of alcoholism. A petition has reached the Parliament and that may spur the introduction of restrictions. Let us hope that they will not be modelled on those in the tobacco sector.

Joanna Krakowiak, legal adviser, Life Science and Regulatory practice, M&A and Corporate Law practice, Wardyński & Partners