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Vodka war: MEPs serve up a compromise cocktail

Article index
 Schnellhardt compromise
 Vodka facts:
How do you like your vodka? - A question barstaff the world over may ask you, but for the last few years this question has divided vodka producers across Europe. It is question of exactly what is vodka and when can the famous word be used for a product. Traditional producers say it can only carry the name "vodka" if distilled from cereals or potatoes. Other producers say that it can also be made from fruit. MEPs in the Environment committee think they have found the answer.

Strong feeling behind strong drink
Dubbed the "vodka war" by the press, the row over the definition has pitted countries from the "vodka belt" like Poland, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia against states that argue that adding fruit does not affect the taste, therefore the product should carry the vodka label. The traditional makers account for 70% of production and 65% of consumption in the EU.
Vodka - a 12 billion dollar a year trade

The disputes raise issues about consumer information, traditions and the cultural heritage of many states. There are also substantial financial interests at stake - globally vodka is worth 12 billion dollars a year.

To add complexity to the mix the US has vowed to defend its home-grown vodka which is made from sugar cane. The US has warned that it could take the issue to the WTO if the EU adopts a too strict definition of vodka.

Schnellhardt compromise

The "Schnellhardt compromise" - named after the rapporteur in the Environment Committee from the European People's Party - says that if vodka is made of cereals, potatoes and molasses - i.e. without stating whether sugar cane or sugar beet is involved - the label can say "Vodka".

If it is produced from other ingredients the label should say - "Vodka produced from..."

This compromise report will be voted on by the full Plenary of the European Parliament when they meet in March. This is the first reading of legislation which must be passed with the agreement of EU Ministers. They have already indicated their willingness to approve the regulation at a first reading if compromise is found.

Vodka facts:

- Russians drink 57% of the world's 4.5 billion litre annual amount.
- Vodka is produced from any agricultural product that ferments - then it is distilled to alcohol and water is added.
- The Slavic word "vodka" first appears in Russia and Poland in the 15th century.

More on european regulations: Current EU legislation on spirits

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