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Ireland will require cancer warnings and calorie counts on alcoholic beverage labels

A freshly poured pint of Guinness is pictured in Dublin, on June 7, 2021.
Paul Faith
/
AFP via Getty Images
A freshly poured pint of Guinness is pictured in Dublin, on June 7, 2021.

Ireland has approved new rules that will require extensive health labeling on alcoholic beverages, including cancer warnings and a calorie count.

Officials say providing such information, which will also have to be available in pubs and other licensed establishments, is critical as experts learn more about the health hazards of drinking.

"This law is designed to give all of us as consumers a better understanding of the alcohol content and health risks associated with consuming alcohol," Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said in a statement. "With that information, we can make an informed decision about our own alcohol consumption."

Though Ireland says it's the first country in the world to introduce such comprehensive labeling, some other nations do require health warnings on alcoholic drinks.

The U.S., for example, mandates that any beverage over 0.5 percent alcohol by volume carry a warning stating that pregnant women shouldn't drink alcohol, that it can impair your ability to drive and that it may cause health problems.

The new Irish labeling rules, which will take effect in three years, will be more explicit about the possible negative health effects of drinking and contain more information about what's in the drink.

Sellers will have to warn of the specific risks of liver disease and fatal cancers from drinking alcohol. They will also have to notify buyers of the risks to pregnancy, the calorie content of the beverage and the number of grams of alcohol it contains.

"Packaging of other food and drink products already contains health information and, where appropriate, health warnings. This law is bringing alcohol products into line with that," Donnelly added.

The new labels are intended to help inform people who aren't fully aware of the health effects of drinking, officials said. According to the annual government-commissioned Healthy Ireland survey, 79% of respondents didn't know about the risk of breast cancer from drinking more than recommended, 60% didn't know about the risks of bowel cancer and 7% believed it was safe to drink small amounts of alcohol while pregnant.

Rachel Morrogh, director of advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society, praised the government for taking steps to reduce new cancer cases and said there was support from the public for such a move.

"Today's announcement shows that once again, Ireland is trailblazing in the area of public health legislation," Morrogh said in a statement. "Signing the labelling regulations into law is a clear statement that reducing preventable disease is a priority for Government."

Still, the new labeling requirements have gotten some pushback from trade groups representing alcohol sellers in the European Union, who say it will make trade more difficult within the bloc.

The European Committee of Wine Companies and the group spiritsEUROPE filed formal complaints with the European Commission, saying they supported Ireland's efforts to combat alcohol abuse but that the new regulations would be too burdensome on businesses.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.