The European Parliament has voted down a bid by MEPs from Poland, Finland, the Baltic states, Sweden and Denmark to tighten the legal definition of vodka.
The so-called "vodka belt" countries wanted to restrict the term to spirits made only from potatoes or grain.

But a majority of MEPs voted in favour of a looser definition.

Vodka made from anything other than potatoes or grain will have to say so on the label - but no minimum size for the declaration will be stipulated.

MEPs agreed on a looser definition taking in sugar beet, grapes and even citrus fruit, which are used as ingredients by producers in countries such as Britain, France and Germany. They account for nearly a third of EU vodka production.

The new definition is still tighter than the definition in use in the EU up to now.

The decision means that Britain will retain its position as the world's second-largest vodka maker, behind Russia.

The drive to tighten the definition was spearheaded by the national governments of Nordic and Baltic countries.

The European Vodka Alliance, which has been lobbying against the stricter definition, threatened to take its case to the World Trade Organization if necessary.

But its spokesman, Chris Scott-Wilson, believes the EU Council of Ministers will reject any moves to restrict the vodka label, sending the regulation back to the European Parliament for a second reading if necessary.

Labour MEP Linda McAvan said the new spirit labelling rules would protect regional product labelling, such as Scottish Whisky and London Gin.

"This deal is vital for the Scottish Whisky industry to protect Scottish brands and distilleries worldwide against cheap imitations from overseas," she said.