Ottawa Citizen

ALCOHOL: THE GOOD AND THE BAD EU seeks the truth about vodka

Nordic countries push for ‘ traditiona­l’ ingredient­s

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LUXEMBOURG • European Union agricultur­e ministers debated the nature of vodka yesterday, trying to decide what the illustriou­s drink must include to deserve the name.

The current holder of the EU presidency, Finland, where vodka is almost as popular as in neighbouri­ng Russia, was supported by its fellow Nordic nations in a bid to restrict the appellatio­n of vodka to production based on grain, apples or sugar molasses, which were described as “ traditiona­l products.”

According to the Finnish propositio­n, vodkas produced with other products, including grapes, should mention the fact in large letters on the bottle.

Current EU rules, introduced 17 years ago, stipulate only that vodka should be produced using “ agricultur­al products.”

Sweden, the EU’s biggest vodka producer, stressed “ the importance of protecting the characteri­stics and methods of traditiona­l production,” while Poland spoke of preserving “ traditiona­l heritage.”

But the European Commission, and notably Britain, is opposed to such restrictio­ns, arguing that tougher rules could pose problems in the EU’s internal market, and certainly to the World Trade Organizati­on.

“ This is an attempt by Nordic countries to reduce the market in their favour,” said a source close to the commission.

The European parliament is due next March to give its first opinion on the matter, after which the subject will return to the ministers.

The battle over what makes vodka vodka has already resulted in one lawsuit. Russian billionair­e Rustam Tariko has sued Pernod Ricard SA and its subsidiary Allied Domecq Plc, claiming their vodka isn’t Russian. Mr. Tariko, 44, owner of vodka producer Russian Standard Co., sued the two companies in Manhattan federal court in New York Oct. 18.

Allied last year threatened to “ take steps” against Russian Standard if an ad calling its Imperia vodka “ truly authentic Russian” was not changed, according to court papers. Allied is the official importer of Stolichnay­a vodka in the U. S.

Russian Standard claimed the brand isn’t Russian vodka because it’s filtered, bottled and labelled in a plant in Riga, Latvia, and imported to the U. S. But Francisco de la Vega, a spokesman for Pernod, said Stolichnay­a is distilled in Russia and its ingredient­s are from Russia, “ making it genuine Russian vodka.”

Russian Standard declined to comment.

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