While the European Union must take a stronger stance on addressing alcohol abuse, there are no plans for an alcohol-free Europe, says the European Commission's Director of Consumption.
Speaking at a conference at the Vinexpo trade fair in Bordeaux, Robert Madelin urged EU member countries to be more proactive about implementing effective alcohol strategies locally.
‘The subject of moderate consumption of alcohol is the background to the success of this whole industry,’ said Madelin.
‘We are not moving towards standardising policy across countries, but ensuring a more proactive, targeted approach from the whole economic value chain.’
The Commission has been working to get relevant parties – from across production, retail, academia, government and non-governmental organisations – to publicly commit to concrete actions.
So far, 102 groups have introduced specific programmes, including enforcing age identification at points of sale; tightening drink driving laws; and introducing alcohol education to young children.
Standing in front of a screen featuring the image of a hamburger, a packet of cigarettes, and a bottle of wine, Madelin acknowledged the confusion caused by health stories that suggest all ‘vices’ are equally culpable. He cited a recent study that implied a consumer’s very first drink could lead to cancer, just as a cigarette could.
‘The sector must decide how it wants to position itself,’ he said.
‘But in terms of the EU’s public health agenda, alcohol is not treated the same as cigarettes because it is not recognised as being dangerous from the first glass. There may be a vision of a cigarette-free Europe, but not of an alcohol-free Europe.’
Madelin downplayed the three-hour conference’s low attendance – only 40 people were in the room at any time – telling decanter.com that this was normal for a ‘policy seminar.’
However he emphasised that the more the industry regulates itself, the less official legislation is required, and ‘the less people like me have to worry.’
Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux