Harris continues to ignore and undermine Irish drinks businesses with harmful and ineffective alcohol bill

Friday, 15 December 2017

Legislation threatens jobs in sector employing over 200,000 people at a time when thriving drinks industry is critical for Ireland during Brexit turmoil

Irish-only health warning labels are barrier to entry and will hit small craft breweries and distilleries hard

15.12.17 - Irish drinks manufacturers have heavily criticised the Minister for Health, Simon Harris and the Department of Health for failing to address its concerns about the advertising and labelling proposals in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which returned to the Seanad today. A number of Senators said that it is important for the Minister to engage with stakeholders impacted by this legislation, including drinks businesses, to ensure that measures are workable and to understand the impact of the proposals on viable Irish businesses. Minister Harris has not meaningfully engaged with or even met drinks manufacturers about the legislation, according to Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI).

In the discussion today, a number of Senators highlighted the fact that, on one hand the Government is suggesting that it is pro-enterprise and will support Ireland’s important food and drinks sector and yet, on the other hand, is introducing legislation that is not proven to work and will severely undermine drinks businesses.

Minster Harris took a balanced approach to the issue of structural separation. ABFI is calling for the same balanced approach to be taken to the advertising and labelling proposals.

The Government is proposing to introduce health warnings on all alcohol products sold in the Republic of Ireland. This includes a cancer warning on alcohol products, which ABFI say would be devastating for drinks companies. In a recent report by economic consultants DKM on the socio-economic impact of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, it argues that specific Irish labelling would impose additional costs on producers.

This increased cost will be particularly harmful for small local producers and new entrants. The labelling requirements would act as a severe barrier to entry and such a measure would cause serious reputational damage to Ireland’s premium drinks products.

In the same report, DKM argued that there is little evidence to prove the effectiveness of warnings on labels in changing behaviour.

ABFI says that applying cancer warning labels on Irish products gives a clear advantage to our competitors abroad, who are not required to carry such a label. Although the labels would be confined to bottles sold in Ireland, images of premium products produced in Ireland carrying a cancer warning could be circulated on the internet/social media. This would be very damaging for Irish businesses.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will also make Ireland one of the most restrictive countries in the world for marketing alcohol products. All existing alcohol advertisements will be banned under the new legislation, which will see all forms of a storyline in ads prohibited. This will be extremely damaging for growth and innovation in the sector, as businesses, both large and small will be unable to market to consumers and bring new products to the market.

Patricia Callan, Director of Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) said:

“The drinks industry is a great Irish success story, with globally recognised quality brands, exports worth over €1 billion and strong prospects for the future. A few years ago, there was only 4 distilleries in Ireland and now there are 18. There will be around 100 craft breweries in the country by the end of this year.

“Yet the Government seems to be taking all of this for granted. Minister Harris and the Department of Health continues to ignore drinks businesses, as it pushes through legislation that will effectively stall and potentially reverse this growth, acting as a huge barrier to entry. This is at a time when the sector already faces major uncertainty, with Brexit negotiations ongoing.

“It should be noted that the drinks industry fully supports measures to target alcohol misuse and underage drinking, but it is critically important that measures are targeted and based on evidence. This is not the case at the moment.”

ENDS/

Media queries: Colin Taylor, Q4PR, 0864671748 or colin@q4pr.ie