Should there be clearer rules regarding alcohol-free beer?

9 May 2024

Should there be clearer rules regarding alcohol-free beer? It doesn't happen often, but now it does: an industry that asks clear EU legislation. Dutch beer brewers find the rules for alcohol-free beer unclear.

In the Netherlands, under the Commodities Act, beer can be called alcohol-free if it contains up to 0.1% ABV, low-alcohol beer has a maximum of 1.2% ABV. But other rules apply in other EU member states. In Germany and Belgium, beer may be called alcohol-free with an alcohol content of up to 0.5 ABV, in Spain up to 1% ABV and in Italy and France even up to 1.2% ABV. These products are also sold in the Netherlands, which means that Dutch supermarkets sell 'alcohol-free' beer with 1.2% alcohol.

But Dutch brewers have found a loophole in the law. They opt for the English term 'non alcoholic' for beers between 0.1 and 0.4% ABV, because the Dutch word 'alcohol-free' is not allowed. The term 'non alcoholic' for drinks with an alcohol content of up to 0.5% ABV comes from the so-called 'combined nomenclature' (EU 2023/2364), a commodity code list that is used in all EU countries for import/export. There are currently no rules for foreign language terms in the Commodities Act. According to the brewers, you can therefore use the English term 'non alcoholic' on the label of a low-alcohol beer, as long as the label also states in Dutch how much alcohol it contains.

Anne Lutgerink of the Nutrition Center finds the brewers' actions 'misleading'. "It is very annoying, especially for people who really don't want to drink alcohol. You make a certain suggestion and it is not correct, that is confusing." Trade associations for brewers in the Netherlands do not find it misleading, but they understand that it is confusing. "Everything is allowed and the brewers keep to the rules, but it is unclear for the consumer," said Jos Oostendorp, chairman of Craft, a trade association of 200 small beer breweries. Director Meint Waterlander of Dutch Brewers, which represents thirteen major breweries, agrees. "It would be good for the consumer if there was more unity in the labels."

The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport will request the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) to look at terms such as 'non alcoholic' on Dutch low-alcohol beers to see if the labels are misleading. After all, you may not give an incorrect or misleading impression about the composition of a product.



Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy STAP
P.O. Box 9769
3506 GT Utrecht
The Netherlands
T: +31 (0)30-6565041
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