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UK: Government proposes deal with drinks industry to tackle alcohol harm

Source: The Globe

The Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) and other leading health organisations walk away from ‘Responsibility Deal' talks.

The IAS, along with several other leading members of the UK health community, has refused to sign up to a new government initiative; the Public Health Responsibility Deal for Alcohol (RDA).

The RDA forms part of a wider Public Health Responsibility Deal, which is a partnership between Government, industry and health organisations. The Deal has four networks, covering food, physical activity, alcohol, and health in the workplace. The Department of Health states that in these four areas “there may be opportunities to work more effectively in partnership than through top-down Government intervention”.

The RDA is co-chaired by Jeremy Beadles, Chief Executive, Wine and Spirit Trade Association and Professor Mark Bellis, Faculty of Public Health, and is supported by Paul Burstow MP, Minister of State for Care Services at the Department of Health.

Each Responsibility Deal network has developed a series of ‘pledges', which are voluntary commitments to be delivered by industry. The alcohol pledges cover product labelling, workplace alcohol policies, unit information at point of sale, education programmes and voluntary marketing codes. Critics of the RDA pledges say that they are not based on evidence of what works, and were largely written by Government and industry officials before the health community was invited to join the proceedings.

The IAS, Alcohol Concern, British Association for the Study of the Liver, British Liver Trust, British Medical Association and the Royal College of Physicians have written to the Secretary of State for Health expressing their deep concerns about this approach to tackling the problem of alcohol harm. Their inability to sign up to the Deal is outlined below:

  • The overall RDA policy objective is to ‘foster a culture of responsible drinking'. This does not adequately address the need to reduce alcohol-related mortality and morbidity
  • The RDA drinks industry pledges are not specific or measurable and have no evidence of success
  • The RDA process has prioritised industry views and not considered alternative pledges put forward by the health community
  • The scope of the RDA is extremely limited. It does not tackle issues of affordability, availability or promotion of alcohol, and focuses on voluntary interventions with no evidence of effectiveness
  • There is no evidence that we have seen to show that Government is working towards a comprehensive, crossdepartmental strategy to reduce alcohol harm, based on evidence of what works, with rigorous evaluation metrics
  • There has been no commitment made on what alternative actions Government will take if the RDA pledges do not significantly reduce levels of alcohol-related harm

Katherine Brown, Head of Research and Communications at IAS, comments:

“We cannot endorse a process in which the alcohol industry is invited to co-create and self-regulate health policy. There is clearly a conflict of interest between industry economic objectives and public health goals of reducing alcohol consumption and associated harms.

The IAS will remain independent observers and monitors of this process, whilst putting pressure on Government to develop a comprehensive, evidence-based, cross-departmental alcohol strategy with rigorous evaluation metrics.”