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WSTA defends trade over "drinks industry bias"

Published:  01 August, 2011

The WSTA has jumped to the trade's defence after criticism that a government advisory group is heavily biased towards the drinks industry.

A Panorama report tonight focuses on how the government talks to the industry, particularly in relation to the Public Health Responsibility Deal. Part of the programme is filmed in a Liverpool accident and emergency department on a Friday night where patients are being treated for alcohol-related illnesses.

It has been widely reported in the national press today that seven out of 16 members of the Government and Partners Alcohol Working Group are from industry, up from just a couple last autumn. This move is criticised by certain members of the health lobby, some of whom have refused to engage with government and the trade in the Responsibility Deal.

Don Shenker, the chief executive of Alcohol Concern, believescompanies were being allowed a bigger say in "setting the agenda" under the coalition government. Shenker recently told Harpers he felt "the deal in its present form is seriously compromised".

Gavin Partington, head of communications for the WSTA, said: "The drinks industry has a duty to help tackle alcohol misuse and is entitled to participate in discussions alongside other stakeholders. Policymakers recognise businesses can help implement policy faster and more effectively than might be achieved through regulation or legislation, a good example being the voluntary agreement to carry health messages on product labels.

"The fact that some health groups want to walk away from discussions shouldn't prevent us from taking part."

Panorama: Dying for a Drink, will be broadcast at 8.30pm on BBC One.