Ireland's New Health Warning Labels Should Worry You

The labels, which are effective in 2026, highlight the risk of liver disease, cancer and the risk of drinking while pregnant in big red letters on every container of alcoholic beverages.

The U.S. and Mexico have voiced concern about the new law, as have Argentina, Australia, Chile, Cuba, and New Zealand.  The law was passed just last month and has been approved by the European Commission although at least nine wine and beer producing member states oppose the measure.  

The European Committee of Wine Companies said the warnings create an "unjustified and disproportionate barrier to trade."  

But Italy's largest farmer's association, Caldiretti, called the labels "alarmist" and said they set "a dangerous precedent."  And that is precisely why you should be worried.  

You can bet antialcohol advocates everywhere will point to Ireland and say, in so many words, "If the Irish can do it, why can't we?"  If the Irish can do it is a fair point, since Ireland ranks 20th out of 48 countries for alcohol consumptions, preliminary 2021 data shows.  In 2019, nearly 5% of all Irish deaths were attributed to alcohol, and Department of Health statistics say light to moderate drinking levels caused almost 23,000 new cancer cases in 2017.

The new law also requires information about calories and alcohol by volume in the beverage.  

The U.S. has required two health warning statements on bev/al labels since 1988. One warns of the risk of birth defects and the other warns that consumption of bev/al "impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems."

The Irish warning goes well beyond the U.S. standard and is intended to deter anyone, not just a pregnant woman, from drinking bev/al.  

The World Health Organization says there isn't any safe amount of alcohol consumption, and Frank Murray, who heads Alcohol Action Ireland, says the evidence linking alcohol to cancer, drinking during pregnancy and liver damage is clear.  “That’s really important because they are three unquestionable harms that alcohol causes,” he said.

And remember that in 2018, the World Trade Organization's dispute resolution unit upheld Australia's right to impose plain-package label restrictions of the sale of tobacco products.  In other words, it doesn't violate trade regulations to abridge your right to put what you want on your labels.  

We think Ireland's new label law is trouble for the bev/al industry.  So does Ireland's health minister.  He's "reasonably confident that in years to come you're going to see people following Ireland's lead, just as they did in tobacco.  This is going to be the norm."