These would include plans for separate codes covering sensible drinking information on labels for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Separate consultations for each country on the future regulation of labelling are among options being considered in a report due to be published in the next two weeks.
Other options include a mandatory UK-wide code or an extension of the existing voluntary arrangements. A four-way split on responsibility for the rules on labels could see retailers required to produce separate packaging for own-labels in different markets.
Suppliers would also face the extra cost burden for proprietary brands.
The DoH has declined to comment on the report until publication.
Separate codes could win favour in Whitehall as product labelling is generally within the remit of devolved executives.
The report is being produced for the DoH by food research organisation Campden BRI. It will include findings that only 11% of drinks products comply with all the five main labelling requirements of a voluntary agreement – which the drinks industry signed up to in 2007.
These requirements cover pregnancy warnings, information on unit content of individual packs, sensible-drinking messages, daily benchmarks for safe consum- ption and information on Drinkaware.
The Wine & Spirit Trade Association has produced contradictory research which shows a higher level of compliance with the code (see box). It argues that its own research is more up to date and covers a wider base of alcohol products.
WSTA spokesman Gavin Partington said: “Our message would be that it is in the interests of retailers and brand owners to comply with the terms of the voluntary agreement – if they don’t they could eventually be faced with different labelling in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”?A major fear for the industry would be that Scotland – whose executive favoured minimum pricing and introduced strict new rules on drinks display in off-licences – would push for extreme measures.
One industry source said: “Who’s to say the Scottish government wouldn’t go for picture warnings, for example, or warnings across half the pack? It would carry a huge cost for retailers and suppliers and it’s difficult to see how it would be practical. It would represent a disaster for the retail trade.”?