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WSTA refutes 'cosy relationship' between drinks industry and government

Published:  08 January, 2014

The Wine & Spirits Trade Association has refuted claims made by top medics that the drinks industry is too close to government, describing a new report on the subject as "fundamentally flawed".

The British Medical Journal report, Under the Influence, claims there is a "cosy relationship" between the alcohol industry and government adding that representatives of the trade were granted "extraordinary levels of access" to officials when lobbying against the minimum unit pricing policy. It suggests this "open door for the industry contrasts with the lack of access granted to the health community" and precipitated the government's U-turn on minimum pricing last year.

The report's author Jonathan Gornall describes the consultation into minimum unit pricing as a "sham" and says politicians ignored the strong health evidence in favour of protecting the interests of industry. 

Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA, said: "This is a fundamentally flawed report, which provides a one-sided view of the minimum unit pricing debate.

"Given the lack of evidence to show that minimum unit pricing would effectively tackle alcohol misuse the government was right not to introduce the policy. 

"It is entirely appropriate that businesses and trade associations have the opportunity to hold dialogue with government and to engage constructively in programmes such as the Responsibility Deal. That is why the WSTA and our members meet regularly with a number of government departments on a range of diverse issues such as product labelling, fraud prevention, trade, licensing issues and the development of evidence-based policies to tackle alcohol misuse." 

The report also singles out supermarket Asda for criticism after its authors discovered a private meeting between the health secretary and Asda's chief executive Andy Clarke, which took place three months after government consultation had closed. The report states: "[This] shows it is not only the alcohol companies that have easy access to the highest levels of government. It also reveals the incestuous web of influence spun by think tanks and lobbying companies paid to lobby on the companies' behalf."

But Asda rejected the accusations, saying in a statement: "It's no secret that we, like other retailers, regularly meet representatives of government including the Department of Health. We consistently, openly opposed the introduction of minimum pricing of alcohol because our customers tell us that it will punish responsible drinkers and fail to tackle the problem of binge drinking and alcohol misuse in the UK."