They have been likened unflatteringly to candyfloss and wine gums, but low-alcohol wines are set to become the next weapon in the government’s war on problem drinkers.
August 15, 2013
By Tim Ross, Political Correspondent
Ministers have become so concerned about levels of wine drinking among the middle classes that they have launched a campaign across Europe to redefine “wine” to include drinks that contain little or no alcohol.
The government is pressing supermarkets and other retailers to stock more low-alcohol products and has promised to step up efforts to rewrite European U nion rules on the minimum strength for drinks to be classed as wines.
Ministers want the minimum strength of still wine to be reduced from 8.5 per cent to 4.5 per cent alcohol-by-volume (ABV), about one-third the strength of many typical table wines today.
However, critics say the move will be met with dismay from many wine drinkers who are already feeling unfairly treated, after suffering above inflation rises in tax on their favourite drinks over the past five years.
Earl Howe, the health minister, claimed that the market for low or reduced alcohol “wines” has been “increasingly rapidly” in recent years.
He insisted that promoting low alcohol wines was in customers’ “best long term interests”, amid concerns over a rise in liver diseases and cancers linked to alcohol consumption.
“The government has consistently made the case for change to the EU wine rules to permit reduced and de-alcoholised products to be called wines,” he said.
The latest round of EU negotiations over the Common Agricultural Policy failed to reach an agreement on redefining wines to include alcohol free drinks after opposition from other wine-producing countries, likely to have included France, Italy and Portugal.
However, the minister promised to “continue to work hard to bring this topic back onto the EU wine policy agenda as soon as possible”.
Victoria Moore, the Telegraph’s wine critic, said wine drinkers were already being “clobbered” with high taxes and a stream of political rhetoric warning them not to over-indulge.
Some naturally low-alcohol wines such as moscato from Italy, and German riesling, can be tasty, she said.
However, wine that has been through an artificial process, akin to decaffeinating coffee beans, generally tastes “rubbish”.
“The parts of the EU that might fight against the proposal to change the definition of wine might be the ones for whom the word ‘wine’ still has a cultural resonance,” she said.
“They like to think it’s more than just booze, it carries a sense of place, and history, and is supposed to taste good.
“The more we winnow away at this and encourage the idea that wine is nothing more than booze that has once seen grapes, then I think we’re placing more emphasis on alcohol than on taste and actually promoting mindless boozing.”
On average, alcohol consumption has been falling since 2004, and experts say there has been a growing market for wine that is slightly weaker than some of the highest alcohol products, at about 12 per cent alcohol, instead of 14 or 15 per cent.
Wine makers are increasingly turning to “fresher” styles, which often mean higher acidity levels and lower alcohol. Industry research last year found that increasing numbers of people are buying low-alcohol wine for its health benefits.
Almost seven million bottles of wine with an alcohol content of less than 8.5 per cent were sold in Britain in 2011, two million more bottles than the year before.
However, there is evidence that ultra-low alcohol wine-style drinks have not been popular with consumers. Some retailers have removed such products from their shelves due to a lack of demand.
A government spokesman said: “We want to encourage alcohol manufacturers to make lower alcohol alternatives – these rules do not help our cause.
“We will continue our efforts to change EU wine rules, to allow all wine producers to make and market lower alcohol products. This will help to help promote healthier choices and tackle the serious harm alcohol causes.”
The government’s plan was backed by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. Miles Beale, the association’s chief executive, insisted that there was a demand for more low-alcohol products.
“As for all agricultural products wine regulations are made at EU level,” he said. “Changes to the regulations would provide greater flexibility for winemakers across Europe and help to broaden consumer choice.”
Soviet Style Alcohol Suppression Campaign Called for By Public Health Activists
February 23rd, 2012
Posted in health, pseudo science, Spin by Guest As someone familiar with cutting edge science and those who work at the frontiers of medical research, I have always been struck by the backward totalitarian nature of public health. In a world in which hard science and enlightened medical opinion is positively buzzing about personalized medicine and the benefits of treating people as individuals, public health continues to push ideas that are more in keeping with early 20th century totalitarian doctrine then 21st century medicine.
? Destroying? vineyards in the wine-producing republics of Moldavia, Armenia and Georgia
? Restricting the times during which shops and restaurants could sell alcohol
? Banning restaurants from selling hard liquor
? Raising the legal age for alcohol consumption from 18 to 21
? Effectively increasing prices by over 75%
? Creating a state sponsored temperance society that grew to 14 million members
His policies were as our neo-prohibitionist friends tell us immediately successful and he achieved a short term significant fall in alcohol related deaths. The price of vodka rose by 25% in 1985 alone and by a similar amount in the following year. The Lancet article unsurprisingly fails to mention the longer term consequences of the campaign.
? Galvanized organized crime to take advantage of a burgeoning black market
? Led to an increase in deaths from poisoning caused by illicit alcohol.
By the third year of the campaign, despite severe custodial sentences being in force for home brewing, illegal Samogon was being consumed in larger volumes than legal alcohol, the policy was hugely unpopular, it was costing the government a fortune in lost revenue and it had significantly benefited organized crime. It was abandoned in October 1988.
Alcohol is costing us dearly – we need action now
A ‘responsibility deal’ is not enough. The BMA believes we need tough legislation to tackle the damage caused by alcohol
March 14th, 2011
By Vivienne Nathanson, Guardian.co.uk
The cost of alcohol to British society is currently estimated at over ?25bn per annum. This is not just the health costs, but also costs relating to crime and disorder, including domestic violence and fights and accidents on the streets. Health workers see the personal costs; we see the fractured families, the individual tragedies of wholly preventable death and disability. And we want action, now, to start to address this complex problem.
The government is about to launch its alcohol responsibility deal but the BMA, along with other health organisations, has been unable to sign up. We are so dissatisfied with the deal, and given the government does not seem to accept our concerns, we believe we had no option but to publicly walk away. The World Health Organisation has recognised that alcohol is a major cause of ill-health worldwide and that action on alcohol must fall into three areas: affordability, availability and promotion. The healthcare professionals and charities with special expertise in alcohol share this concern and this understanding of the need for a joined-up approach. This means that, as the health secretary Andrew Lansley keeps saying, every minister must see him or herself as a public health minister and seek out actions they can take to promote health rather than booze.
The sad truth is that many drinkers have no idea how much they are drinking, or the harm it is doing. Still fewer have any idea that alcohol is a poison that kills, as well as causing chronic liver and other organ damage. Drinking at levels that will harm health or lead to premature death occurs in all social classes and all age groups, but the health harms are disproportionately felt by the poorest in our communities. The government must commission more research into attitudes towards alcohol in the UK, make sure school-based and general public education are clear, and consistent and are part of a wider strategy. All alcohol packs – cans and bottles – must by law be labelled with easy to read information about the number of units within them, the safe drinking levels and a warning message about not exceeding these levels.
Retailers and the industry also need to play a role: legislation should look at price, and the way in which alcohol is marketed and licensing legislation should be strictly enforced; including ensuring that there are the resources for that enforcement. Applications for more licences to sell alcohol should be reviewed against a background of considering public health and street crime; we must reduce the availability of alcohol by reducing the number of places selling it.
What we need is a joined-up and comprehensive alcohol strategy. This includes dealing with drink-driving laws and treatment for individuals with alcohol problems. We know that driving is affected by drink. The government must stop ignoring the advice from Peter North and lower the drink-driving limit, and legislate to allow the police to do random roadside testing.
In the healthcare sector we must make sure we have sufficient resources for those needing help to stop or limit their drinking, with no long waits for referrals where these are needed. This must mean training in and then funding for brief interventions a well as for the necessary specialist services.
The good news for government is that we have two alcohol strategies available from the last decade. Action must deal with the problem areas, including pricing, and it must have teeth – industry must be in no doubt about the willingness of government to regulate and legislate. Independent expert monitoring and evaluation should be built in to make sure we are meeting targets such as a year-on-year real reduction in the numbers who drink excessively. This is not impossible – it looks as if France has achieved this, and that its alcohol industry has maintained its bottom line while selling less.
If supermarkets can find large sums of money to fund alcohol education, fine. But that money should go to charities who know what they are doing and are wholly independent of industry, such as the Institute of Alcohol Studies and Alcohol Concern who should then commission, and evaluate, the education.
We know that regulation and legislation take time, especially where Europe is involved. But further delay now is not the answer. We should start to legislate today and use voluntary agreements to get action while the process of legislating is under way. Anything else and we condemn more people to unnecessary deaths, and our economy to a steadily increasing financial burden.
13 March 2011
By Nick Triggle Health reporter, BBC News
Six leading health groups have dealt the government a blow by refusing to sign up to its new “responsibility deal” on alcohol in England.
The deal covers voluntary agreements with the drinks industry on issues such as promotions and labelling, aimed at tackling alcohol abuse.
But the organisations, including Alcohol Concern, accused ministers of not being tough enough on the industry.
The government said the deal was just one strand of its public health policy.
The groups, which also include the Royal College of Physicians and the British Liver Trust, were asked to sign up to the alcohol part of the deal to show a united front between industry, health and government.
As well as alcohol there are separate workstreams on other issues, such as food and physical activity.
The full details of the responsibility deal have yet to be unveiled, with an announcement expected this week, but under it, the drinks industry would be expected to sign up to a number of alcohol pledges.
‘Lack of clarity’
These reportedly include ensuring 80% of products on the shelf are labelled for unit content, raising awareness of the unit content of drinks in pubs and clubs and taking action to reduce under-age drinking.
There would also be a pledge to commit to action on advertising and marketing by promoting responsible drinking and keeping alcohol adverts away from schools.
The health groups said they had lost confidence with the approach because of the lack of clarity over what would happen if industry did not meet the commitments.
They said the pledges were neither specific nor measurable, they lacked scope and there was no evidence they would even work.
They also said there was not enough being done to make alcohol less affordable and said the drinks industry had used the process to dictate government policy.
Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “It’s all carrot and no stick for the drinks industry and supermarkets.
“By allowing the drinks industry to propose such half-hearted pledges on alcohol with no teeth, this government has clearly shown that, when it comes to public health, its first priority is to side with big business and protect private profit.”
Professor Vivienne Nathanson, of the British Medical Association, another of the groups which have pulled out of signing up to the deal, added: “The government has talked the talk, but when it comes to taking tough action that will achieve results, it falls short.”
Shadow health secretary John Healey said the move was a “damning criticism” of the government’s policy.
But Health Secretary Andrew Lansley rejected the criticism, saying progress was being made and tough action was being taken where necessary.
He pointed to the recent announcements about plans for a new tax on super-strength beers and a ban on below-cost alcohol, whereby drinks are so heavily discounted they are sold for less than the tax paid on them.
However, he added: “We have made clear from the start that the responsibility deal is just one strand of the government’s public health policy. It explicitly excludes cost and price competition to avoid conflicts of interest.”
The full list of organisations which are refusing to sign up is: Alcohol Concern, the British Association for the Study of the Liver, the British Liver Trust, the British Medical Association, the Institute of Alcohol Studies and the Royal College of Physicians.
Supermarkets urged to keep alcohol separate
Alcohol should be kept away from food and soft drinks in supermarkets, according to a campaign group.
28 February 2011
By BBC News UK
Alcohol Concern wants shops in England and Wales to keep beer and wine in a separate section.
It has found that big retailers place beer and wine near the doors and the tills, as well as on food aisles.
Industry groups say encouraging people to drink with food is responsible, as most people enjoy their alcohol that way.
But Alcohol Concern says drink should not be displayed so widely, and should not be alongside bread and cheese.
Its chief executive, Don Shenker, said: “It’s now common practice to sell wine next to ready-meals, pushing the idea that a relaxing meal should be accompanied by an alcoholic drink.
“Such practices help fuel a drinking culture where one in four people in England are already drinking at levels that are harming their health.”
Mr Shenker says supermarkets are “saturating” their aisles with alcohol.
Some of the samples identified by the group’s research were:
•?Asda had bottles of wine at the fish, meat and deli counters and cans of cider next to the hot chicken counter
•?Morrisons had beer next to fruit and vegetables, and champagne next to the milk
•?Sainsbury’s had wine next to soft drinks, bottles of spirits next to fruit and boxes of beer next to cheese
•?Tesco had bottles of spirits next to bread and tea, and cans of cider were found next to crisps
The research involved a single visit to a branch of each supermarket in Cardiff on a single day in December 2010.
The British Retail Consortium said it was a very small-scale survey, which would be skewed by the fact it was carried out close to Christmas.
The BRC’s food director, Andrew Opie, said: “Supermarkets are the most responsible sellers of alcohol. There’s no evidence to link the way alcohol is sold currently to irresponsible drinking.”
“Limiting supermarket displays would create inconvenience for the vast majority of customers who enjoy alcohol sensibly”, he said.
Alcohol Concern wants England to follow the example set in Scotland where laws restrict the places where alcohol can be seen.
Gavin Partington from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said there was no evidence from Scotland that the change had any impact on tackling alcohol misuse.
“Far from demonising alcohol, surely we should encourage people to drink with food,” he said.
“Most people enjoy drinks in this way and that’s why they are happy to buy them as part of their weekly shop.”
The Welsh Assembly Government has expressed support for the move, but has not yet introduced any measures.
Doctors’ leaders have backed the calls for supermarkets to change the way they display alcohol.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics for the British Medical Association, said: “We have to start de-normalising alcohol – it is not like other types of food and drink.”
“Alcohol in moderation can be good for you but as many as 30% of people in the UK are drinking far too much and putting their health at risk.”
Dr Nathanson said: “Having separate alcohol areas in supermarkets is only one aspect of a comprehensive strategy that the government needs to introduce to tackle alcohol misuse.”
The BMA and Alcohol Concern both support the introduction of a minimum price-per-unit for alcohol of 50p.