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Industry says self-regulation, not pricing, key to drink battle

By Neil Merrett , 16-Mar-2009
Last updated the 16-Mar-2009 at 14:25 GMT

As UK authorities reportedly mull adopting minimum pricing on alcoholic beverages sold in the country, European drink makers claim they remain better placed to regulate the market than governments.

A spokesperson for the European Spirits Organisation (CEPS) told BeverageDaily.com that it opposed similar EU price laws and that competition regulation in the free-market would make enforcing price restriction in the bloc difficult.

Price proposals

Sir Liam Donaldson, the UK’s chief medical officer, has put forward proposals this month that would effectively double drink-prices in England and Wales by ensuring no beverage product could be sold for less than 50 pence per unit of alcohol.

Scotland’s government is already said to be planning to introduce a similar system into law before 2010. The move would make it the first European country to have minimum drink pricing, a move drinks organisations say is unlikely to be followed by other member states.

A spokesperson for CEPS said that the drinks industry across Europe was ‘obviously concerned’ about minimum pricing, believing it is not the way to control alcohol abuse.

“The law will punish the majority of Scots or Europeans who drink responsibly,” claimed the spokesperson.

CEPS also criticised potential pricing regulations for failing to tackle the root courses of alcohol abuse by aiding consumers most at risk.

The organisation added that, with the industry's social responsibility commitments currently operating across Europe under a self regulation basis, it would regret further intervention from legislators in its operations.

“We place a huge emphasis on self-regulation in our operations and are currently meeting the commitments we have made,” claimed the spokesperson. “We can regulate our operations more effectively than any government or EU legislator can.”

The spirit industry’s doubts appear to be reflected by some politicians in the UK, despite medical experts playing up the effectiveness of price regulation.

In a report published today in UK-based newspaper, the Guardian, it is claimed that UK politicians are wary about committing to the possibility of raising prices for alcohol ahead of a general election thought to be less than a year away.

The report suggests that some health groups and charities believe that raising the prices on the country’s alcohol supply would serve to dramatically reduce consumption rates.

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