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Is the EU official really asking the EU alcohol industry to help write other countries public health policies?

The EU delegation of the European Union to South Africa has requested European alcohol producers to carry out “activities…..around risks of alcohol abuse and mitigation measures” following changes in Government alcohol policy introduced in South Africa in response to the Covid- 19 pandemic. This is understood as requesting them to participate in designing a strategy to influence alcohol policy in the South Africa and the EU delegation to South Africa appears to have offered to part fund the project.

South Africa has introduced several measures to reduce harm from alcohol, initially to reduce pressure on public services during the pandemic and these measures, based on World Health Organisation recommendations have been effective. Parts of the alcohol industry, including global operators, have consistently opposed these measures including through legal challenge to the South African Government (

The South African Health Minister has said: “We do need to have a conversation as South Africans on what we can do to reduce the excessive consumption of alcohol and all the negative outcomes of alcohol”. The response from the EU Delegation is an email stating: The EU industry, as an important player in this space, needs to be part of this conversation. The Department of Health has shown some interest in engagement in the past, but other health issues have exhausted its ability to tackle it meaningfully. It has attempted via regulations, but even in this case, it has not been able to follow through due to capacity constraints.

The alcohol industry should not be part of this conversation and the European Union should certainly not be encouraging and facilitating their engagement. The EU’s role should be to support public health experts in South Africa and internationally develop effective and implement effective solutions to reduce harm from alcohol, which causes thousands of deaths in South Africa as well as harming families and threatening public safety.

This request from the EU delegation comes just days after the launch of the Europe Beating Cancer Plan which clearly describes the problem linked to harmful consumption of alcohol. During the pandemic there have been numerous calls for a European Health Union and the EU has been a champion of public health.

This action by the EU delegation to South Africa harms the reputation of the European Commission.

It is in addition stated in Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen responsibilities number one is “Building inclusive and equitable partnerships to reduce global poverty and support sustainable development”.  

This request to the alcohol industry by the delegation to intervene illustrates a worrying trend of lack of EU policy coherence. It shows that the EU Institutions are working in silos. During the Covid pandemic the EU has emerged as the beacon of public health and coordinated multinational response. It therefore comes as such a disappointment that the European External Action Service (EEAS) policy directions are not coordinated with DG SANTE who should be the first point of contact for any EU official on health-related matters.

This happening at a time where it is becoming clearer that the COVID 19 pandemic is leading to an increase in alcohol harm. The World Health Organisation has clearly stated its concerns regarding  alcohol consumption and Covid-19 (  This includes a recognition of the role of alcohol in gender-based violence, road traffic injuries and the impact on the unborn child which are issues of major concern in South Africa and other countries.

The alcohol industry is one of the major barriers to tackling alcohol harm. In addition to their activities to increase consumption through the design and distribution of their products, they consistently oppose effective harm reduction policy and support measures which are less threatening to their profitability. Therefore, the WHO say that the alcohol industry should not have a role in policy development and their contribution should be to support public health measures through the provision of information on sales and marketing.

Eurocare calls on the EU delegation to cancel this initiative it has taken in South Africa and follow international best practice and prevent the harmful involvement of the alcohol industry in policy development.

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