TALLINN - Last month's decision by the European Commission that allows alcohol producers to label virtually any 40 percent beverage as vodka has angered Baltic distillers.
Estonian alcohol producers have appealed to the Agriculture Ministry to demand that the EU executive limit the definition of vodka to only those spirits distilled from grain and potatoes.
The European Commission refused to define the raw materials from which vodka can be made, which, in the words of one Estonian, leaves open the possibility for vodka produced from "bananas, banana peels and other products of agricultural origin."
"Being seriously concerned about the preservation of the clear identity of vodka, as formed over the centuriesâ€¦ the Vodka Association is expecting the Ministry of Agriculture to actively participate in the activity of the work groups setting out the definition of vodka with the European Union," the association wrote in its appeal to Agriculture Minister Ester Tuiksoo.
The EU definition of vodka, which was endorsed despite opposition from the Baltic states and Poland, still has to pass several stages before becoming final.
"It's a very emotional issue. It's also about preserving the reputation and honor of our vodka," said Liviko Janek Kalvi, vice chairman of the association, said.
The Agriculture Ministry said in its response that it supports the stance of vodka producers and that the state would continue to back the traditional definition of vodka.
Diana Kommus, a ministry spokesperson, told the Baltic News Service that officials would take part in EU work groups that are to spell out the definition of vodka. She added that Estonia would proceed from the standpoint that only a strong alcoholic beverage based on grain or potato can be called vodka.
"The member states haven't agreed about the definition of vodka in the work groups yet. Probably the issue of the definition of vodka will be next discussed in the EU agriculture and fisheries council at ministers level, with Agriculture Minister Ester Tuiksoo taking part," Kommus said.
According to the ministry, six EU member states 's Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland and Sweden 's have agreed on a definition that says vodka can be made only from grains or potato. The six are working closely together on the matter.
While a number of opportunities to defend the traditional definition of vodka have been neglected, by now the countries concerned have consolidated their ranks, and it is still possible to get a decision in favor of traditional vodka makers, Kalvi said.
Many other kinds of alcohol are better protected in Europe than vodka, he added. A part of the blame for this lies on the alcohol producers, who have failed to defend their interests effectively enough. "Fortunately, we've woken up now," Kalvi said