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Will Switzerland place warning labels on alcohol?

Pressure is building for Swiss alcohol bottles, including spirits, wine and beer, to include warning labels like cigarettes. Would this make sense - and would it lead to behavioural change?

Does Switzerland need to place mandatory warning labels on alcohol products - and would it help? Photo by Daniel Vogel on Unsplash
Does Switzerland need to place mandatory warning labels on alcohol products - and would it help? Photo by Daniel Vogel on Unsplash

Within a short period of time, labels on tobacco products worldwide went from displaying logos and even cartoon-style characters to pictures of lines and death alongside capitalised warnings. 

Now, countries across the globe including Switzerland have mandated graphic labels on tobacco products, while other countries like New Zealand are considering outlawing tobacco altogether. 

Across Europe, a similar movement is gaining steam to add warning labels on alcohol products, including beer, wine and spirits. 

While it may have begun as a fringe campaign, it is now being discussed at a European Union level – and has won plenty of support in Switzerland. 

National Council member Katharina Prelicz-Huber supports an awareness campaign where consumers are informed through wider labelling on alcoholic products. 

“One should talk about the fact that alcohol can be both a stimulant and an addiction,” Prelicz-Huber told 20 Minutes. 

“You have to be aggressive in informing people.

“It would need notices like ‘Caution: Excessive consumption is dangerous’ or ‘Caution: Can be addictive’ on the labels”.

Addiction Swiss, a support organisation, has called for labelling on alcohol products to mirror that of cigarettes, warning people of everything from the likelihood of violence to the risk of cancer. 

“The fact is that mortality from high-risk alcohol use is linked to a variety of illnesses, accidents or injuries. With more than a third, alcohol-related cancer is the most important” said Monique Portner-Helfer, a spokesperson for Addiction Switzerland. 

“The cancer risk in particular is still little known among the general public. Warnings on bottles could do something.”

The Swiss Blue Cross, an NGO focused on “protecting people from being harmed by alcohol and drugs” says consumers should be informed of the risks of alcohol consumption. 

“You need to give consumers a clean slate” Martin Bienlein, a spokesperson for the group, told Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes. 

“Warning notices on the bottles, like on cigarette packs, would make sense here.”

Alcohol producers say they recognise the concern, but point to existing labels on alcohol products which encourage people to ‘drink responsibility’, saying these warnings should be sufficient. 

The Swiss Brewery Association said it “rejects shock images on labels”. 

Marcel Dobler, from the centrist FDP, criticised the idea, arguing that such labels were inconsistent with Switzerland’s “free society”. 

“Everything is unhealthy in excess,” he told 20 Minutes. 

“It’s absurd what has to be written on products these days.

“I ask myself whether such excessive prevention is in the interests of our free society.”

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Why are Swiss angry with Americans about Gruyere cheese?

Swiss cheesemakers have lost a crucial American court case, but it looks like they’ll fondue something about it.

A picture taken on December 12, 2014 shows a Gruyere cheese wheel at the Rungis international market in Rungis outside Paris.  Photo: ELIOT BLONDET / AFP
A picture taken on December 12, 2014 shows a Gruyere cheese wheel at the Rungis international market in Rungis outside Paris. Photo: ELIOT BLONDET / AFP

Swiss dairy producers are cheesed off after an American court ruled ‘Gruyere cheese’ does not have to come from the Gruyères region in order to bear the name. 

A legal consortium representing Swiss and French cheesemakers had sued for trademark protection, hoping to claim ownership of the name in a similar way to champagne, Scotch whisky or cognac. 

The American court however denied the claim, saying American consumers considered Gruyere as a style of cheese rather than a product from a particular origin. 

As a consequence, American cheesemakers or indeed dairy producers from any other region were free to sell Gruyere cheese in the US under the Gruyere name. 

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In effect, the judge found Gruyere to be just a variety of cheese like cheddar, rather than a protected product from a certain region like Roquefort. 

According to the judge, it appears the popularity and ubiquity of the cheese may have been its downfall. 

“It is clear from the record that the term Gruyere may have in the past referred exclusively to cheese from Switzerland and France,” the judge wrote. 

“However, decades of importation, production, and sale of cheese labeled Gruyere produced outside the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France have eroded the meaning of that term and rendered it generic.”

In effect, the judge held that when American consumers scour supermarket shelves for Gruyere, they do not believe they are buying a product which is or which must be imported from Switzerland. 

The legal consortium has promised to appeal the ruling in the US courts. 

What does this mean for Swiss consumers? 

The ruling, while important in the context of export, does little to influence the protected status of the name in Switzerland and in the European Union and the United Kingdom. 

Gruyere is one of of 12 cheeses from Switzerland which is a part of the European Union’s Protected designation of origin (Appellation d’origine protégée) framework. 

This means that use of the name is protected in these territories. 

Some of the other cheeses to be offered protection include Emmethal, Raclette du Valais and Ticino Alpkäse. 

The full list can be seen here.