NGOs resign from EU health forum with ‘deep concerns’ about alcohol-related harm and effectiveness of industry commitments

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Public health NGOs resign from EU alcohol and health forum

Related tags European union Eu

More than 20 health bodies have resigned from the EU Alcohol and Health Forum, saying the European Commission is ignoring calls to develop a new EU Alcohol Strategy.

Last month the EU’s Health and Food Safety Commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, said there were no plans to establish a new EU alcohol strategy. He said alcohol-related harm would instead be addressed in a wider framework on non-communicable diseases.

But the resigning bodies – some of whom were founding members of the EU Alcohol and Health Forum – say this approach will not sufficiently address the burden of alcohol harm in Europe.

There is a lack of evidence that voluntary measures from the alcohol industry are effective, claims their resignation letter, adding there is not a sufficient opportunity to discuss effective policies in the absence of vested interest groups.

However industry bodies – who represent Brown-Forman, Diageo, Heineken, SABMiller and ABInBev among others – have defended the forum and its efficacy.

Participation ‘can no longer be justified,’ say resigning NGOs

A previous EU Alcohol Strategy expired in 2012. The resigning NGOs say the Commission is ‘ignoring’ calls from the European Parliament and member states to create a revised plan.

The organisations tendering their resignation include European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare); European Public Health Alliance (EPHA); Alcohol Policy Youth Network (APYN); and Royal College of Physicians London, UK (RCP).

The Forum was established as a tool to support the implementation of the EU Alcohol Strategy, which expired in 2012. Given the absence of plans to develop a new Alcohol Strategy, our participation in the EU Alcohol and Health Forum can no longer be justified,”​ says the collective resignation from 21 organisations, submitted yesterday.

“The incorporation of EU alcohol policy into a broad framework for the prevention of non-communicable diseases will not sufficiently address the burden of alcohol harm in Europe. Crime, violence, domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation and road traffic accidents are just some of the many externalities associated with alcohol harm that would be neglected through this approach.”

Each year there are more than 120,000 premature deaths related to alcohol in the EU, and alcohol harm costs the region €125bn ($139bn) a year with costs to health services, crime, and lost productivity in the workplace.

The EU Alcohol Strategy was intended to focus on policy areas such as trade, drink drive legal limits, minimum purchase age laws, and minimum unit pricing.

The signatories say there have been concerns about the efficacy of the forum since its inception.

“Concerns have been raised about the lack of evidence to indicate that voluntary commitments from the alcohol industry lead to reductions in alcohol harm. We have also raised objections about the lack of formal structure available to public health bodies to discuss evidence for effective alcohol policy in the absence of vested interest groups.”

Industry defends body

spiritsEUROPE is the European representative body for spirit producers (members include Brown-Forman, Diageo, and Bacardi-Martini). It says the resignation ‘seems very premature,’ given that no details of the wider framework have been published yet.

We do not share the NGOs’ opinion that reducing alcohol-related harms as part of a wider plan addressing non-communicable diseases is necessarily a bad thing.  We have constantly called for a more holistic approach to addressing alcohol harm,” ​said Paul Skehan, director general spiritsEUROPE.

“Nor do we accept the NGO claim that the Forum lacks efficacy. 

“Our commitments remain:  spirits producers will continue to work on meaningful actions to reduce alcohol related harm, with the Commission, Member States, enforcement authorities, community groups, health-related organisations and partners down the value chain -  indeed, anyone who shares our commitment to change social norms for the better.”

The Brewers of Europe represents 5,000 breweries, including Heineken, SABMiller and AB InBev (who are also direct members of the EU Alcohol and Health Forum under The Brewers of Europe).

It said that it hopes the resigning NGOs can be convinced of the EU’s commitment to alcohol misuse.

Both the European Parliament and EU Member States recently recognised the positive contribution made by the EU Strategy and the continuing relevance the priority areas for action and of the structures set up to implement them, such as the Forum,” ​the organisation said.

“Brewers remain committed to the Forum and to rolling out, through our European Beer Pledge, actions, including through partnerships with government authorities and NGOs,  that concretely address alcohol-related harm at the local level. Brewers are already responsible for over a third of the commitments to action made in the Forum.”

Resigning bodies

The NGOs resigning from the EU Alcohol and Health Forum are as follows:

European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare)

European Public Health Alliance (EPHA)

Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME)

European Cancer Leagues (ECL)

European Association of the Study of the Liver (EASL)

Alcohol Policy Youth Network (APYN)

European Mutual Help Network for Alcohol related problem (EMNA)

United European Gastroenterology (UEG)

European Midwives Association (EMA)

Nordic Alcohol and Drug Policy Network (NordAN)

European Medical Students' Association (EMSA)

EAHF Science Group

Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS), UK

Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP)

Royal College of Physicians London, UK (RCP)

Association Nationale de Prévention en Alcoologie et Addictologie (ANPAA)

No Excuse Slovenia

Eurocare Italy

Estonian Temperance Union

Alcohol Action Ireland

German Centre for Addiction (DHS)

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