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Beer mugs at the Munich Oktoberfest

Photo: IMAGO/Brigitte Saar / IMAGO/Future Image

Perhaps as drastic as the warnings on cigarette packets? Or something more subtle? It is still unclear exactly what the warnings for alcoholic beverages that Ireland is currently preparing will look like. But it is clear that from 2026 onwards they must be printed on all bottles and cans containing alcohol.

Ireland is thus the first EU member state with such a far-reaching regulation. And a pioneer in Europe.

The Federal Government's Commissioner for Drugs and Addiction welcomes the procedure and announces further steps himself. Representatives of the beverage industry, on the other hand, consider the existing regulations in Germany to be sufficient. The most important questions and answers.

What exactly is Ireland planning?

Warnings have already had an effect on tobacco products, according to the Irish Government. Now the labels on beer and whisky bottles are also intended to warn of dangers such as liver disease or cancer.

The aim is to make a balanced decision by consumers, according to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. "This law is intended to give us all a better understanding of alcohol content and the health risks associated with alcohol consumption."

What is so special about the Irish scheme?

Regulations are also in force in other EU countries that go in this direction. In France, for example, advertising must point out the dangers, especially for pregnant women. But Ireland will be the first country to introduce health labelling on all alcoholic products, the World Health Organization praised in May.

Is there also a need for action in Germany?

The Federal Government's Commissioner for Drugs and Addiction, Burkhard Blienert, is pushing for more extensive restrictions on alcohol advertising and more protection of minors. Advertising plays a decisive role in determining whether and how many people become aware of alcohol. This also applies to people who already have a significant addiction problem and are therefore even less able to protect themselves. Alcohol advertising must first and foremost be prevented where it is perceived primarily by children and young people. Warnings on labels were a step in the right direction. But more is needed.

What do the manufacturers say?

According to the alcohol manufacturers, the current regulations are sufficient, as their associations make clear. The consumption of alcoholic beverages, especially alcoholic beer, has been declining for many years, emphasizes the German Brewers' Association. Alcohol consumption by children and adolescents has also been declining for years. Soon, every tenth litre of beer brewed in Germany will be alcohol-free. The German Wine Institute and the Federal Association of the German Spirits Industry and Importers, like the Brewing Association, rely on voluntary commitments.

How does the EU deal with Ireland's unilateral action?

The European competition authorities, i.e. the EU Commission, tolerate the project. The Irish authorities have sufficiently demonstrated that the measures are based on scientific evidence and that they take into account the country's health concerns, said a Commission spokeswoman. The consequent restrictions on the internal market are proportionate.

The German Brewers' Association, on the other hand, argues that food labelling in the EU is uniformly regulated and that all states must adhere to it. The European wine association CEEV and the producer association Spirits Europe also criticised different rules for the common market.

Will there be EU-wide requirements for warnings?

Alcohol consumption in Europe is the highest in the world, and alcohol-related harm is a major problem, according to the EU Commission: "Unfortunately, awareness of harmful alcohol consumption as a risk factor for cancer is still low in the EU, which is why providing consumers with additional information about harmful and excessive alcohol consumption may prove useful in protecting citizens' health." according to a spokeswoman. The EU Commission first wants to collect facts. A study launched in April on the effectiveness of health information on alcoholic beverages is also intended to serve this purpose.

Will the German government impose stricter requirements?

The addiction commissioner Blienert sees the ball in the court of the federal government in his proposals. He is in talks with several federal ministries. "We are tightening the regulations for marketing and sponsorship of alcohol, nicotine and cannabis. We are constantly measuring regulations against new scientific findings and aligning health protection measures with them," says the coalition agreement of the traffic light coalition.

From the industry's point of view, the effectiveness of behavioral warnings has not been proven. The relationship between alcohol and cancer risks is highly complex and cannot be adequately explained by a warning, argues the German Brewers' Association.