The Irish government signed into law on Monday a requirement for drinks manufacturers to slap a stark health label on all alcoholic beverages sold in the country, warning consumers that alcohol consumption can cause cancer and liver disease.
“I welcome that we are the first country in the world to take this step and introduce comprehensive health labeling of alcohol products,” said Health Minister Stephen Donnelly in a written statement, confirming the new rules would come into effect on May 22, 2026.
“I look forward to other countries following our example,” he added.
The move faced vociferous opposition from winemakers, brewers, and distillers across the world, and received several complaints from lobbyists in fellow EU member states.
Ireland was handed the green light to proceed with the advisory warnings earlier this year after both the European Commission and the World Trade Organization refused to block the plans.
Italy, in particular, led the charge against the proposal with Coldiretti, Italy’s biggest farmers’ association, highlighting that the country’s wine exports were equivalent to half of the domestic wine industry’s €14 billion of annual revenues.
The association called the move a “direct attack” against Italy and claimed it sets a “dangerous precedent, as it risks opening the door to other legislation capable of negatively influencing consumer choices.”
Ireland’s Minister of State for Public Health Hildegarde Naughton is adamant “the medical evidence is clear that a cancer risk applies even at lower levels of alcohol consumption,” although this conclusion is disputed.
“It is completely improper to equate the excessive consumption of spirits, typical of the Nordic countries, to the moderate and conscious consumption of quality products with lower alcohol content, such as beer and wine,” Coldiretti added in a statement back in January.
Meanwhile, the Brussels-based Brewers of Europe lobby group described the measures as “a significant, unjustified, and disproportionate barrier to the free movement of goods,” while Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani called on the European Commission to “intervene and bring the rules of the country back in line with the rules of the single market.”
These are views shared by Drinks Ireland, representing members of the Irish alcohol beverage sector, who accused the government on Monday of “railroading the legislation through despite ongoing international processes at WTO and EU level.”
The organization explained that talks are still planned for the next WTO meeting on June 21 and that it is unacceptable for the Irish government to force through its plans before that date.
“Unfortunately, this is an example of zealotry rather than evidence-based legislation,” claimed Cormac Healy, Director of Drinks Ireland. “We would call on the 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.
“The government has been a staunch defender of the harmonized EU market, but is now clearly causing unnecessary tensions with important trading partners. We do not need two labeling systems. The logic remains that Ireland works with the EU on its plans for a harmonized approach,” he added.
The health warning must be displayed in large capitalized red writing and include a link to the Health Service Executive website, which provides further information on the harmful effects of alcohol and its suggested links to cancer and other diseases.