01-31-2007, 12:38 AM
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EU moves to cure vodka headache
The European Parliament has suggested a possible solution to a dispute between EU states over the definition of vodka.
Poland, Sweden and Finland say only spirits distilled from grain or potato are truly entitled to be called vodka.
Other countries, such as Hungary, Spain and the UK, say there is no reason to change current rules, which allow it to be made from any agricultural produce.
MEPs have now said vodka not made from grain, potato or molasses should simply have its ingredients clearly labelled.
Vodka made from more than one ingredient would have to be labelled as "blended vodka".
The proposal, adopted by the European Parliament's environment committee, still has to be agreed by the full parliament - and by the governments of the member states themselves.
The EU's German presidency must now attempt to broker an agreement among the member states, before the full parliament votes on the committee's report in March.
The countries most determined to enforce a strict definition - Finland, Poland and Sweden - are expected to object to the parliament's proposed compromise.
They had been seeking to prevent drinks made from molasses, grapes or other fruits being sold as vodka.
According to one estimate, this would have eliminated from the market more than two-thirds of EU production outside the Baltic region.
A spokesman for the European Vodka Alliance, which has been fighting attempts to restrict the definition of vodka, said the compromise was broadly acceptable.
However, he said questions about how the "blended" label would work in practice had still to be resolved.
A UK government spokesperson said: "We welcome the fact that today's decision by the European Parliament Committee would enable all products currently sold as vodka to continue to be sold as vodka in the EU."
The vodka issue arose as part of a review of EU legislation on the legal definition of spirits.
The existing definitions date back to 1989, before Finland, Sweden or Poland - all countries with a long history of drinking clear spirits - had joined the EU.
The word "vodka" is derived from the word for water in Polish and Russian.
The UK, Europe's second biggest vodka exporter, uses sugar beet molasses as the raw ingredient for about one-third of its production.
The BBC's Alix Kroeger in Brussels says UK vodka factories are concentrated in Scotland.
While Scotland wants a liberal definition of vodka, she says, it wants a strict definition of whisky.
The Scotch Whisky Association said the changes to EU law proposed by the environment committee would better protect traditional practice within the whisky industry.