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Governments and politicians who accede to the alcohol drinks companies’ demands that they have a place at the table of public health policy ought to take note of their behaviour over the European Union’s Alcohol Strategy. That their behaviour has lacked integrity and called into question their sincerity and trustworthiness comes as no surprise to alcohol policy advocates.

At the behest of the Industry, DG SANCO officials organised roundtable discussion through the aegis of the European Policy Centre, between representatives of the Commission, Member States, Industry and NGOs to discuss the draft proposals for a European Alcohol Policy Strategy. After four meetings, when the Industry had found it had not succeeded in winning over NGOs to their strategy to deal with the problem, they attacked the process. Even before DG SANCO published its proposed Strategy, the Industry launched a sustained lobby campaign to the European Parliament and other Commission Directorates, misrepresenting the Strategy, which had yet to be agreed by the collegiate of the Commissioners.

After such an onslaught,Commissioner Kyprianou and other officials of DG SANCO have to be applauded for their tenacity in getting a strategy agreed and published. Albeit not as explicit in its details as the first, it is still a triumph. It is fairly obvious that the Drinks Industry wanted to have no Strategy. The episode brings into question whether the Industry canever be trusted.

Andrew McNeill, the new Secretary of Eurocare, is right to observe:
“Given that the Industry has made it abundantly clear that it is opposed to the whole idea of a public health strategy on alcohol, how can it possibly be seen as a main collaborator in implementing it?” While these events were unfolding in Europe, the WHO held its meetings with representatives of the Industry and NGOs in Geneva. The meeting was no doubt the result of the WHO Resolution on Alcohol passed last year at its Assembly but was overshadowed by the fact that the Industry has allies in some powerful governments.

Apposite to this is the fact that the British Prime Minister, Mr Blair, has intervened on behalf of Diageo to persuade the Turkish Prime Minister, Recept Tayyip Erdogan, to reduce the penalties imposed by Diageo for alleged unpaid taxes – surely an abuse of political office? (See The Sunday Times (London) October 29, 2006)

The former special adviser to Mr Blair is now a senior Non-Executive Director of Diageo. It should be noted that Mr Blair launched one of his strategies to deal with Britain’s drinking problem at Diageo’s headquarters.

Such actions do not surprise American alcohol policy advocates, since they confirm that “Anheuser Busch serves as a sponsor for their Presidential campaign debates and provides a comfy jet for candidates” for the Presidency.

D Rutherford