BASL and other key health organisations do not sign responsibility deal
Date Added: 13/05/11
Six health organisations previously involved in the government’s Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network (RDAN) have decided not to sign up to the overall Public Health Responsibility Deal because of serious reservations about the proposed alcohol pledges.
The Responsibility Deal is a partnership between the Department of Health, industry and the health community covering alcohol, food, physical activity, and health at work. Organisations were asked to sign up as partners to the Deal by Monday 7 March.
The six organisations – Alcohol Concern, British Association for the Study of the Liver, British Liver Trust, British Medical Association, Institute of Alcohol Studies, and the Royal College of Physicians, have written to the Department of Health to say that they are unable to support the Deal as a whole, and have signed up to the following joint statement explaining their position.
This is a collective statement from the health organisations listed above on the Public Health Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network (RDAN). The listed organisations have participated in RDA discussions with Government and the drinks industry, representing the health community and providing expert advice. We have now been invited by Government to sign up to the final Responsibility Deal drafted by the Department of Health. The RDA sets out a series of voluntary pledges for the drinks industry. We are unable to support the RDA for the following reasons:
- The overall RDA policy objective to ‘foster a culture of responsible drinking’ does not adequately address the need to reduce alcohol-related mortality and morbidity.
- The RDA drinks industry pledges are not specific or measurable and do not state what would be evidence of success.
- The RDA process has prioritised industry views and not considered alternative pledges put forward by the health community. These have included proposed pledges: to not advertise alcohol based on price; to not advertise in cinemas for under-18 films: and to include health warnings on all drinks products.
- The scope of the RDA is currently too limited. It does not tackle issues such as, availability or promotion of alcohol, and focuses on voluntary interventions with no evidence of effectiveness.
- We have not yet seen evidence that Government is working towards a comprehensive, cross-departmental 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.
The health organisations listed above call on Government to provide the following:
- A clear and firm commitment on how it intends – via evidence based policy – to tackle affordability, availability and promotion of alcohol as part of a cross-government strategy, with rigorous evaluation metrics.
- A clear presentation of the steps that will be taken if the current RDA objectives are not met in 12 months time.
- A firm commitment to consider change - including through regulation - if voluntary commitments from business are not met after an agreed time period.
The alcohol health community remains completely open to dialogue with the government and is prepared to continue to engage in discussions about how industry can act as responsible producers, distributors and promoters of alcohol. However, we do call upon government to follow recommendations from the World Health Organization and two parliamentary select committees; that alcohol policy should be guided by public health interests and the best available evidence, not influenced by competing commercial interests.
We believe that the government’s stated intention to develop a new alcohol strategy gives an opportunity for us to help develop an evidence-based policy to reduce the currently unacceptable levels of morbidity and mortality from alcohol in England. We would welcome the opportunity to put the case for evidence based alcohol policy measures to a grouping that include representatives from all the relevant Government departments including the Treasury, and we would have no objection to the drinks industry being allowed to debate their counter proposals. Such a process should be transparent, fully open to the media and with representation from civil society. The health community would be happy to host such a process.
Dr Nick Sheron, British Association for the Study of the Liver, said:
“The priority for the drinks industry is to deliver shareholder
value - this basic conflict of interest should preclude them from an
influence on alcohol policy. An effective UK alcohol policy must
include measures which reduce overall alcohol consumption in the UK at a
population level, and the drinks industry has always opposed such
“There are however a number of actions that the industry could take to reduce alcohol related harm which have either no impact, or at best a limited impact of their profitability. These actions include meaningful reductions in the average %ABV of certain alcoholic drinks, coupled with the marketing initiatives necessary to drive purchases. The industry could agree to stop lobbying against effective health policy initiatives such as the introduction of a minimum price. They could agree to stop lobbying against the current initiative on labelling in the EU, where intense pressure from the drinks industry has resulted in an exemption where drinks will now be exempted from labelling legislation if they contain alcohol. They could take a leaf from the French retailers where substantial reductions in alcohol consumption, and in alcohol related deaths have been achieved alongside increases in the turnover of the drinks industry by building quality and not quantity into their marketing strategies.
"Unfortunately the RDAN agenda has been set entirely by the drinks industry, and an opportunity has been squandered so far. Were a better and more equitable structure to be established, then BASL would consider again whether this was something where our expertise would be of use.”
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