Last year, the European Commission proposed introducing mandatory health warnings for alcoholic drinks by the end of 2023, as part of its Beating Cancer plan.
But Italy has said it will appeal to the European Commission against the introduction of the labels that warn that alcohol harms the liver and is linked to cancer, and ask the EC to put the case to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The cigarette-like warnings about the hazards of alcohol consumption were tacitly given the go-ahead after the EC failed to block them.
Now Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Minister Francesco Lollobrigida on Friday condemned what he called “lies” in planned Irish health warnings on wine, beer and spirits bottles.
“Lies seriously damage your health,” said Lollobrigida, grand-nephew of screen diva Gina Lollobrigida, at a Brescia forum against ‘frankenfood’.
“We will support in every way not only actions of defense against the aggression of bogus labels, but we will also make all promotional actions to explain at all levels what are the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, in its complexity, and our nation’s products,” he said.
Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said, “Ireland’s decision to introduce a (health warning) label on all alcoholic beverages, including Italian wine, is absurd,” the minister tweeted.
Tajani said the decision had been taken against the opposition of the European Parliament and stressed “this choice ignores the difference between moderate consumption and abuse of alcohol.” He said he would ask the European Commission to intervene by complaining to the World Trade Organization.
The European Union’s decision not to oppose Ireland’s plan to bring in health warnings like those on cigarette packets for wines, beers and spirits has stirred widespread anger in Italy.
Dublin is free to bring in the warnings about health risks linked to liver disease and cancer after it informed the European Commission of its plans in June 2022 and the EU executive did not raise objections in the ensuing six-month moratorium period even though Italy, France, Spain and six other EU member States were against.
Italian wine producers fear the move will set a precedent that other countries may follow and affect exports.
Italian farmers’ association Coldiretti called it a “direct attack on Italy, the main producer and exporter (of wine) with over 14 billion euros in (annual) revenue, with over half coming from abroad”.
Lamberto Frescobaldi, the president of the Italian Wines Union (UIV), said the EU’s “consent by silence” to Ireland’s alcoholic drinks labels gave the green light to a “dangerous” move by a member State.
Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forestry Undersecretary Luigi D’Eramo expressed dismay too.
“You don’t protect public health by criminalizing individual products,” D’Eramo said in a statement on Thursday.
“Wine is history, culture, an expression of our territories to us and it is part of the Mediterranean diet.
“It is about quality and responsible consumption. “(The health warning plan) is a dangerous precedent that, if followed by other countries, risks damaging a leading sector of our food-agriculture system.
“Wine and beer cannot be compared to spirits and smoking”. Lollobrigida said the EU’s decision to allow the Irish labels was “extremely serious”.
He said “we believe that behind this choice, once more, they are aiming not to protect health but to condition the markets, and that the push in this direction comes from nations which do not produce wine and where highly alcoholic spirits are abused. They want to equate wine with spirits but wine when used in moderation is a healthy foodstuff”.
Veneto Governor Luca Zaia, whose region is a big wine producer, said the “absurd” decision risks causing billions of euros of damage to the sector.
“It’s a hypothesis I don’t even want to consider,” he said.
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