Booze Industry Pushes Back Against Policy Changes For Moderate Drinking

Image courtesy of (Joachim Rayos)

It’s long been believed that the occasional drink doesn’t do any real harm to most folks’ health, and may in fact provide some benefits. However, as health officials increasingly question the validity of that belief, the industry that stands to lose the most is fighting back with its own research and lobbying dollars. 

Health policy regulators in a number of countries have recently changed their tune when it comes to the purported modest coronary and other health benefits of moderate drinking.

For example, in the U.S., the Department of Health and Human Services ditched guidelines earlier this year that suggested light drinking could lower the risk of heart disease, noting that more research was needed.

Likewise, the U.K.’s decades-old advice that drinking could help the heart has been supplanted by a guideline stating that alcohol raises the risk of certain cancers.

The changes in the U.S. and U.K. were echoed in other countries, thanks in part to a report released by the World Health Organization in 2010 that labeled drinking harmful, “even when consideration is given to the modest protective effects, especially on coronary heart disease, of low consumption of alcohol for some people aged 40 years or older.”

Predictably, the Wall Street Journal reports, the alcohol industry is not taking kindly to these new guidelines, and has already been working to craft legislation, research, and other offensive measures.

While the guidelines likely won’t influence too many casual drinkers to step away from the bottle, the WSJ reports, they can go a long way in crafting legislation around the world.

For example, a proposed law in Malawi would have raised the taxes on alcoholic drinks. The industry, which says it was asked for input, noted that by making legal alcohol more pricey, consumers would likely turn to more dangerous, unregulated beverages.

Such changes are possible here in the U.S., the WSJ reports, leading some companies to take proactive measures.

Beer Institute President Jim McGreevy told executives at a conference in April that the industry “can’t let them gain traction,” referring to health guideline changes.

AB InBev, which just received the go-ahead to buy rival SABMiller, launched a program last year that aimed to address the WHO’s concerns by trying to reduce the use of alcohol in six cities by 10% over 10 years. In Canada, the brewer introduced a nonalcoholic Budweiser and aims to have 20% of its volume come from no- or low-alcohol beer by 2025, the WSJ reports.

Similarly, AB InBev, spirit maker Diageo, Heineken, and Pernod Ricard have contributed more than $55.4 million toward clinical trials assessing alcohol’s health effects.

While the companies say the findings could go either way, the WSJ reports, executives believe “it’s important to get a conclusive and definitive answer for public-health reasons for consumers and our business.”

The group has also been active in discrediting researchers, who once received federal funding provided in part by the industry, who found a flaw in some studies that found more heart disease in nondrinkers than in light drinkers.

That report has incorrectly marked some participants as nondrinkers despite the fact they once had consumed alcohol regulatory but quit for illness reasons, the WSJ reports.

With Moderate Drinking Under Fire, Alcohol Companies Go on Offensive [The Wall Street Journal]

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