Ireland's Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly signed into law the Public Health (Alcohol) (Labelling) Regulations 2023 and the remaining provisions of Section 12 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act on Monday, May 22.
Section 12 and the Labelling Regulations together introduce comprehensive health labeling of alcohol products sold in Ireland and provide that similar health information will be available for customers in licensed premises.
The new Irish law provides that the labels of alcohol products will state the calorie content and grams of alcohol in the product. They will warn about the risk of consuming alcohol when pregnant and will also warn of the risk of liver disease and fatal cancers from alcohol consumption.
The labels will direct the consumer to the HSE website, AskAboutAlcohol.ie, for further information.
There is a three-year lead-in time built into the law in order to give businesses significant time to prepare for the change. The law will apply from May 22, 2026.
"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 Donnelly said on Monday.
"With that information, we can make an informed decision about our own alcohol consumption.
"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."
Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy, Hildegarde Naughton, added: "Everyone has a right to be told about the risks associated with a product before we consume it. This law is designed to ensure all consumers of alcohol have access to clear and concise information about the risks from alcohol.
"The medical evidence is clear that a cancer risk applies even at lower levels of alcohol consumption."
Minister Donnelly said: "I welcome that we are the first country in the world to take this step and introduce comprehensive health labelling of alcohol products. I look forward to other countries following our example."
Alcohol Action Ireland, the national independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm, welcomed the new law, stating that alcohol consumption is responsible for roughly 7% of all female breast cancer cases in Ireland.
This is a really significant day for public health in Ireland.— AlcoholActionIreland (@AlcoholIreland) May 22, 2023
Thanks v much @DonnellyStephen and @roinnslainte for your leadership and dedication of the team in bringing this about. https://t.co/qhQijZ0pDv
Professor Eamon Keenan, the HSE's National Clinical Lead for Addiction Services, praised the Government for its "innovative approach" to alcohol consumption.
"We're going to be able to get information out to people about the risks and harms associated with alcohol, as well," Keenan told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.
However, Drinks Ireland, the Ibec sector that represents the interests of alcohol drinks manufacturers and suppliers on the island of Ireland, pointed out that there had been significant international opposition to the new law, stating that nine countries, including Mexico, the UK, and the US, have criticized the new law through a World Trade Organization notification process.
The organization added that the new legislation will have a negative impact on Irish producers, both in terms of logistics and international reputation.
"Unfortunately this is an example of zealotry rather than evidence-based legislation," Cormac Healy, Director of Drinks Ireland, told RTÉ News.
"We would call on Government to urgently address these significant international concerns from the EU and beyond and explain why Ireland is going alone on alcohol labels at a time when harmonized labels are being planned across the EU."
Spirits Europe, which represents small distillers and major alcohol producers in Europe, has lodged an official complaint against the legislation and has asked the European Commission to open an infringement procedure against Ireland over the new legislation.
Brewers of Europe, which represents beer makers in 29 different countries, has also lodged a complaint with the commission.
The European Committee of Wine Companies (CEEV), which represents 7,000 wine producers, has also filed a complaint with the executive branch of the EU.
Opponents of the new legislation have called on the Irish Government to wait until the European Commission comes forward with European-wide health labels.