Italy’s foreign minister has escalated the health labeling row into a full-blown diplomatic row with plans to put cancer warnings on Irish wine bottles as an “attack” on his country’s identity and heritage.
The brouhaha stems from the government’s plans to introduce alcohol warning labels, which break new ground in labeling by highlighting the link between drinking alcohol and cancer.
The plan has sparked a storm of protest in Italy, a major wine producer, where industry groups have accused it of setting a dangerous precedent within the European Union over fears it could affect exports.
“The Mediterranean diet, which is a key part of our economy, is under attack,” Italian Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Antonio Tajani told reporters in Brussels on Monday.
“It is also part of our identity. Our identity cannot be distorted… we have the right to protect our economic system.”
[ Sorry to be a buzzkill, but that nightly glass or two of wine isn’t improving your health ]
Mr Tajani told reporters on Monday that he had met the Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Michel Martin for bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Foreign Affairs Council and raised his objections to Italy’s labeling plan.
“I explained to him how dangerous the message from Dublin was,” said Mr Tajani, a long-serving senior politician in Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and part of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government.
“I also had a glass of red wine again, all the doctors say it’s good for the heart too, so it’s doubtful it’ll hurt you either.”
The World Health Organization has said there is no “safe amount” of alcohol consumption that does not affect health, which is the Irish government’s rationale for requiring alcohol producers to put up warning signs to inform consumers of the dangers.
But Tajani called on the European Commission to act to curb the government’s plans.
“I think the commission should step in and bring the country’s rules into line with the rules of the common market,” he said. Mr Martin was “open” to discussing the issue and Italy’s health and agriculture ministers would hold talks with their Irish counterparts, Mr Tajani said.
The European Commission’s deadline for objections to Ireland’s labeling plans recently became controversial after the EU’s central body issued no complaints despite major protests from EU wine-producing member states.
Mr Tajani suggested it could be the thin end of a wedge that would introduce Nutri-Score, the nutrition labeling system for food, to EU countries, which Italian food manufacturers strongly oppose because of its poor treatment of fatty foods such as mozzarella. and parmesan.
“A lot of interest” was at work, Mr Tajani continued, all part of a wider plan to change Italy’s dietary traditions and referring to recent suggestions that crickets could be a nutritious food source.
“It all seems so random. New products were introduced and the Mediterranean diet was attacked,” said Mr Tajani. “This is not a conspiracy. It’s an attack on the Mediterranean diet.”