Global Economics

End to EU Vodka Wars in Sight?


European Parliament's vote in favor of German guidelines may cap off disputes among vodka-producing nations

MEPs have supported a compromise deal on the definition of vodka—an issue which has pitted EU vodka-producing countries against each other.

MEPs in the European Parliament's environment, health and food safety committee voted by 39 votes to 22 in favour of a report by German centre-right MEP Horst Schnellhardt on the regulation on defining spirit drinks.

Mr Schnellhardt sought a simple middle way in the EU dispute—dubbed Europe's "vodka war"—between the bloc's vodka producing coutries.

In December 2005, the European Commission proposed to reform the EU spirits regime with a focus on dividing vodka into several categories based on ingredients and flavour with a labelling scheme for all vodka bottles.

But the proposal pitted member states producing vodka with traditional ingredients—potatoes and cereals—against member states using other methods in their vodka, such as sugar beet and grapes.

Poland—together with the Baltic states and Sweden demand that true vodka can only be made from potatoes or barley grain, saying anything else was just a poor copy and should be labelled as such.

Germany, supported by Finland, argues for traditional ingredients to include sugar, while Ireland, the UK and several Mediterranean countries want no restrictions at all, saying that several categories of vodka would be confusing and discriminatory.

The "vodka report" proposes a double labelling of vodka: if the spirit is produced with potatoes, cereals or molasses (sugar), only "vodka" needs to be put on the bottle.

Vodka that is not made by traditional means, on the other hand, should under the proposal carry a label also stating what the vodka's raw materials are.

Mr Schnellhardt said in a statement that a compromise on the thorny issue had already been reached with member states meaning that "a first reading agreement is in sight."

Most of the taste from the raw materials in vodka is lost during its distillation, which takes place at around 96 percent alcohol by volume.

"We are pleased that the committee has retained an open definition in which any agricultural raw materials may be used," said Chris Scott-Wilson from the European Vodka Alliance.

The report will be put to a plenary vote in March where MEPs will have to vote on the labelling of vodka being sold on the EU market.

EU agricultural ministers will then have to rubberstamp the regulation at the earliest in March or April.

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