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Health lobby slams government's drinks responsibility deal

Published:  14 March, 2011

The government is defending its responsibility deal after six health organisations said they were pulling their support because of "serious reservations".

Alcohol Concern, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Physicians are among the six groups who have written to the Department of Health saying they are unable to support the deal. Organisations were expected to sign up by today (March 14), prior to the formal announcement of the deal tomorrow.

Don Shenker of Alcohol Concern criticised the deal saying it had "no teeth" when it comes to clamping down on drinks firms who fail to comply with the deal. "It's all carrot and no stick for the drinks industry and supermarkets," he said. He also accused the government of being "in thrall to business".

The deal, which aims to set out voluntary agreements on alcohol labelling and advertising, will still go ahead.

From the outset the government made clear that the issue of pricing was off the agenda ? under competition law competitors are prohibited from discussing pricing strategies.

But the health lobby argued there could be no meaningful discussion of alcohol harm without addressing cut-price drinks promotions.

This morning health secretary Andrew Lansley defended the deal on BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "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."

But Shenker said: "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.

"If the government are going to mistakenly rely on self-regulation to reduce problem drinking, they must clearly state what they intend to do if it fails.

The deal will include commitments from the trade to prevent under-age sales, display unit contents prominently and suuport "community alcohol initiatives". Venues will also be required to include calorie labelling on food and soft drinks, reduce salt levels in food by 15% , and promote a healthier lifestyle among employees.