Sligo TDs warn penal advertising controls and cancer notices on alcoholic beverages will endanger rural-based brewing and distilling industry

Extra large cancer warning labels ‘threat to exports.’

Sligo News File

Sligo TDs have hit out at proposed mandatory cancer notices on alcoholic products warning that the move will damage the country’s rural-based brewing and distilling industry.

Eamon Scanlon,TD

Ireland will be the only country in the world to have mandatory cancer warnings on alcoholic beverages, Sligo-Leitrim Deputy Eamon Scanlon told the Dail on Thursday.

The measure, which has also been attacked by local Fine Gael Deputy Tony McLoughlin, is contained in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill currently being piloted through the Oireachtas.

Producers will be required to post king-size cancer warning labels on all alcoholic beverages, if the legislation is enacted.

Scanlon said the dictate would seriously hurt the activities of the country’s thriving indigenous rural-based brewing and distilling sector as well as the investment and jobs connected with the industry.

He pointed out that no other country in the world has mandatory cancer warnings on alcoholic products. The provision, which also stipulates that cancer or health messages will have to make up at least a third of dedicated labelling space of the product, will he said, “attach a stigma to products produced in Ireland,” and give “a clear advantage” to competitors abroad who are not required to have such labels.

The Bill, the overall principles of which he agreed with, also did not exempt Irish whiskey, gin, cream liqueur or distillery visitor centres from proposed punitive controls on product advertising. Brewing and distillery centres attract “over 2.5 million visitors annually,” he said.

Centres will be prohibited from exhibiting any images of people or
the suggestion of a storyline relating to alcohol.

Small and new alcohol producers will be acutely disadvantaged “in terms of brands.”

Tony McLoughlin, T.D.

Noting its economic importance to the country, he said the drinks industry currently supported the employment of 204,000 people, generated €2.9 billion in wages, purchased more than €1.1 billion of Irish products annually, exported goods worth €1.25 billion, provided the State with over €2.3 billion in excise and VAT and contributes hundreds of millions in income tax, PRSI receipts and tax on profits every year.

The sector embraces brewers, distillery workers, suppliers, farmers, distributors and those engaged in the hospitality sector.

Alcoholic beverages manufactured in Ireland are exported to 130 countries worldwide, “reinforcing our reputation as a premium food and drinks producer.” he said.

Stating that where four years ago there were four whiskey distilleries in the country, now there is 18, and an additional 16 in planning. “There are also approximately 100 microbreweries operating in Ireland today.”

The Shed in Drumshanbo, a craft distillery, was, he said, an example of the kind of development which could be seriously impacted by the Bill. Launched by the Taoiseach, the business had grown to where it is now employing a staff of 18, and proposing to add at least 20 more if a “visitors’ experience centre” is approved. The planned expansion will link the €2 million investment with local hotels, the Shannon Blueway and Arigna to broaden the local tourism base.

Of the current 18 employees at the Shed, 16 were previously on the live register, he said. “Some of them were unemployed for up to eight years.

“In conjunction with its US distiller, the Shed has trained a wonderful local staff with zero previous experience to become world-class distillers from the point of zero. “All of this has happened in Drumshanbo.

“Why should the company invest if it is being undermined by the Government in the form of this extreme and unbalanced Bill,” he asked.

“In my home town of Ballymote, there is a micro-brewery which has been operating for approximately four years and which employs 20
people in an area where people have no real opportunity to gain employment.

“Another small micro-brewery in Sligo, Lissadell brewery, employs 18 people. Those are brave individuals who are trying to do something for their local areas by creating employment where previously there was none.”

The Bill in its advertising and labelling demands will make Ireland “one of the most restrictive countries in the world” for the marketing of alcohol products

It will be extremely difficult for new distilleries and breweries to market their products and compete against established brands, he said.

Outdoor advertising will be severely limited and advertisements prohibited in train stations and at bus and Luas stops.

He added that the Bill would also “shift advertising revenue away from Irish media towards international, non-Irish regulated media organisations that broadcast freely in this country.”

Deputy Tony McLoughlin said that if the Bill was simply about “reducing the consumption of alcohol and about reducing the harm caused by the misuse of alcohol in our society, as its listed objectives advise,” he believed there would not be any major cause for concern.

However, the Bill did not limit itself to these aims and included several areas “which deeply concerned him as an elected representative for Sligo-Leitrim.”

He said,”It seems as though, yet again, the hands of the un-named and unaccountable Government officials are all over this Bill and that we as public representatives are expected to run with it, despite its flaws. It is unfair.”

“I speak here as a life-long pioneer and as a person who never has taken a drink of alcohol in my life. …there is no vested interest on my part.

“I strongly believe this Bill goes too far when attempting to address the real problems with excessive drinking in this country and will have many unintended consequences on a wide range of sectors throughout Irish society. These are consequences which could be avoided while still ensuring the Bill’s overall aims are met. These are aims which I fully support and Ireland is already on its way to addressing them judging by the fall in consumption levels since 2002.

“Whether it is in agriculture, employment, tourism or the economy, this Bill will have many unintended consequences across the country and many jobs will be lost as a result. My colleague, Deputy Eamon Scanlon, highlighted this earlier…”

Speaking of the Shed in Drumshanbo where the owner Pat Rigby had gone on to develop a unique, award-winning Irish gin “that has taken the world by storm…” he said the development proved “just what a success rural Ireland can be for investment. The product’s incredible growth has meant that further expansion and jobs are planned in Drumshanbo.”

“It is a wonderful success story for County Leitrim and is something which the local community in Drumshanbo is very proud of. A small start-up company, with limited market share to date, has grown in size as a result of its premium quality and being able to tell the unique story of its production and its humble origins.”

However, sections of the Bill “will ultimately put this great product’s future in doubt.” It had, he said, already put the new visitor attraction centre and the further new jobs  scheduled to come on stream in Leitrim in doubt.

“I am firmly of the opinion,” he said, “that the key way to tackle the real abuse of alcohol in this country is to ensure that the below-cost selling of alcohol is tackled hard and that dangerous advertising campaigns and unsafe drink offers aimed at young people are curtailed.”

“The key areas of this Bill which, I believe, are causing the most alarm are the proposed new measures on labelling and the advertising of alcohol products. These dramatic and, in my opinion, unnecessary measures are somewhat excessive and when considered along with the fact that Ireland’s alcohol consumption levels are already rapidly declining can be seen as extreme.

“…I cannot see why the Government has accepted two amendments in the Seanad from Senators Nash and Black which, if retained, will require the introduction of mandatory cancer warnings on all alcohol products sold in the Republic of Ireland and a requirement that health warning labels must make up at least one-third of dedicated labelling space.”

“I must ask where has the Department of Health presented real scientific or evidence-based argument to justify the introduction of these specific cancer and 30% labels. Are the officials suggesting here that we will soon be putting cancer labels to the tune of 30% of the packaging on labels for bacon, sausages, red meat, butter, smoked salmon etc. for cancer risk also? What will be next?

“What will these cancer warnings look like? Will they be the same as those on the cigarette packages? As of yet, we do not know as this function will be decided solely by the Minister for Health. I do not doubt the Minister’s good intentions here, but can one imagine a bottle of premium Irish whiskey, gin or whatever with such huge labels and images on it and the effect it will have on the potential to sell this product abroad?”

“It is unworkable and it will greatly damage local business in Ireland and internationally.”