Responsibility Deal under renewed fire

11 November, 2011

The drinks trade has defended the Responsibility Deal it struck with the government in spring, after the accord came under fire from the health lobby at a recent forum.

The industry was accused of “active collusion” with the government and of “procrastination” over unit labelling, one of the key pledges the trade made as part of the deal, at the Westminster Health Forum’s seminar on alcohol and responsibility.

Charities, NGOs and local councils called for minimum unit pricing, curbs on drinks advertising and restrictions on the availability of alcohol.

They said the drinks trade should not be involved in government steps to promote responsible drinking because of the conflict of interests.

Alison Rogers, who until recently was chief executive of the British Liver Trust – one of six health-related bodies that pulled out of the Responsibility Deal the day before it was announced by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley – said: “A very long history of working with the alcohol industry tells me mandatory measures are now required. There is a fundamental conflict of interest for the drinks industry to claim to try and help change the relationship with alcohol when sale of alcohol is its raison d’être. 

“The best marketing minds in the business are not working on cutting down sales – they are working out how to get a lovely corporate social responsibility campaign. Someone else is going to have to take up the mantle.”

But Gavin Partington, communications director at the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, said the deal is “making significant progress”.

“The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but if companies carry on as they have done, coming forward with individual pledges but also making progress in working groups to reach joint solutions, I think we have every reason to be confident,” he said.

Portman Group chairman Seymour Fortescue said: “Some critics have suggested the alcohol deal is a cosy arrangement where the industry sits down with the government and helps to set government policy. That really is rubbish. 

“The government’s alcohol strategy, of which responsibility is only a part, will be published later this year or early in 2012. The industry is delivering things the government wants putting out in messages approved by the Department of Health. I believe it can be a way of getting messages out to a wider audience.”

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