Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network

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Alcohol badge.jpg This article is part of the Spinwatch public health oriented Alcohol Portal project.
FirstAid.png This article is part of the Health Portal project of Spinwatch.

Alcohol Network

The Alcohol Network is one of the components of the Public Health Responsibility Deal. It works with partners from the alcohol industry to develop pledges for action that promote sensible alcohol consumption. The network is co-chaired by Jeremy Beadles, the Chief Executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association and Professor Mark Bellis from the Faculty of Public Health, with support from Paul Burstow MP, Minister of State for Care Services at the Department of Health.[1] The network’s newsletter, published in July 2011, claimed that 220 partners had signed up to the network [2].[3] The organisations involved and their specific commitments to the group's pledges can be found on the DoH's website: Responsibility Deal Partners [4] All members of the alcohol network sign up to a broad and non-specific core commitment: “We will foster a culture of responsible drinking, which will help people to drink within guidelines.”[5] There are also seven collective pledges that members can to sign up to on a voluntary basis. At least half of the 220 partners have signed up to at least one of seven pledges relating to alcohol. [6] Some companies have made individual pledges specific to their organisation.

Health Groups Walk Out of Alcohol Network

Initial plans for three working groups each with one representative from the alcohol industry and one from an NGO or public health advocacy body has been difficult to achieve. After initial meetings six key organisations refused to work within the network because of it is dominated by the alcohol industry and because industry aims and interests have been put before a meaningful public health strategy. This has left the network short of non-industry partners. The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians, Alcohol Concern, the British Association for the Study of the Liver, the British Liver Trust, and the Institute of Alcohol Studies all withdrew from membership of the network. [7] In a joint statement the groups that have walked away from this partnership with industry gave the following reasons:

  • The overall Responsibility Deal Alcohol (RDA) policy objective to ‘foster a culture of responsible drinking’ does not adequately address the need to reduce alcohol-related mortality and morbidity.
  • The RDA drinks industry pledges are not specific or measurable and do not state what would be evidence of success.
  • The RDA process has prioritised industry views and not considered alternative pledges put forward by the health community. These have included proposed pledges: to not advertise alcohol based on price; to not advertise in cinemas for under-18 films: and to include health warnings on all drinks products.
  • The scope of the RDA is currently too limited. It does not tackle issues such as, availability or promotion of alcohol, and focuses on voluntary interventions with no evidence of effectiveness.
  • We have not yet seen evidence that Government is working towards a comprehensive, cross-departmental strategy to reduce alcohol harm, based on evidence of what works, with rigorous evaluation metrics.
  • There has been no commitment made on what alternative actions Government will take if the RDA pledges do not significantly reduce levels of alcohol-related harm.[8]

Each organisation also made a public statement on their refusal to participate.

Public Statements

Organisation Spokesperson Public Statement '
Alcohol Concern
Don Shenker 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.[9]
Nick Sheron Unfortunately the RDAN agenda has been set entirely by the drinks industry, and an opportunity has been squandered so far. Were a better and more equitable structure to be established, then BASL would consider again whether this was something where our expertise would be of use. [10]
British Liver Trust
Alison Rogers We are leaving the Responsibility Deal for Alcohol reluctantly as we do not believe it will result in any real reduction in levels of alcohol-related health and social harms in the UK. At the heart of our decision is the fundamental conflict of interest inherent in the Deal.[11]
British Medical Association
Vivienne Nathanson The BMA has thought long and hard about walking away from the table but ultimately we do not feel we have any option. The government has talked the talk in respect of wanting to tackle alcohol misuse but when it comes to taking tough action that will achieve results it falls short. Instead it has chosen to rely on the alcohol industry to develop policies - given the inherent conflict of interest these will do nothing to reduce the harm caused by alcohol misuse. [12]
Institute for Alcohol Studies
Katherine Brown We cannot endorse a process in which the alcohol industry is invited to co-create and self regulate health policy. There is clearly a conflict of interest between industry economic objectives and public health goals of reducing alcohol consumption and associated harms. This has been highlighted by two parliamentary select committees and the WHO.[13]
Royal College of Physicians
Ian Gilmore While it is perfectly appropriate for Government to take into account the economic impact of any public health policy, it is not acceptable for the drinks industry to drive the pace and direction that such public health policy takes. The industry pledges published in various newspapers, do not give practising doctors, who see the rising tide of health harm from drink in their daily practice, any confidence that they will get to the core of how we reverse this entirely preventable cause of illness and death. [14]

Lack of non-industry involvement

This confrontation has left the network short on non-alcohol industry representatives and therefore the non-industry working group chairs are still to be confirmed. The three working groups are:

  • Retail principles this group will explore the potential of actions in the retail environment to support the Deal’s objectives. Chaired by Guy Mason, Morrisons and (tbc)
  • Lower alcohol and smaller measures, exploring how people can be helped to reduce their alcohol consumption through the development and marketing of lower alcohol products and smaller serving sizes. Chaired by Scott Wilson, Molson Coors and Alan Hopley, Addaction (tbc)
  • Education and young people, looking at delaying the onset of drinking in under 18s by targeted education aimed at young people and parents of under 16 year olds. Chaired by Bruce Ray, Bacardi Brown Forman and Mentor UK [15]

Alcohol Industry Threatens to "Pause" Cooperation

The Wine & Spirit Trade Association's (WSTA) annual conference in September 2012 heard from the WSTA's chief executive Miles Beale that if the UK government proceeds with plans to introduce a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol that cooperation from the industry would be "paused" [16] Beale described the Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network as a governmental “carrot and stick” and that “If they’re going to bring out the biggest stick available, then our co-operation will pause,” [17]

The threat further undermines the Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network already public health groups have walked out leaving the network dominated by alcohol industry interests and charities who accept funding from the alcohol industry. If the industry also refuses to cooperate then more questions about the utility of the scheme will be raised. This threat raises serious questions of the value of including the alcohol industry in schemes designed to reduce alcohol related harm.


Public health advocacy groups argue strongly that the pledges developed by the network are skewed in favour of the alcohol industry, providing an inadequate response to the severity of alcohol related harm in the UK. The pledges themselves continue to be vague and difficult to measure and do not contain evidence based measure to elevate rates of harm caused by alcohol consumption. The alcohol industry has refused to consider effective restrictions on alcohol advertising, including ending advertising in cinemas when films for under-age viewers are shown, any increase on the price and availability of alcohol.[18] Further examination of pledges offered shows that many of the agreements made by the alcohol industry are assurances that have already been given to government but never fulfilled or are pledges based on the least effective means of reducing consumption and in turn alcohol related harm.

Examining the pledges offered by the network makes it difficult not to agree with the NGO's who have refused to participate. It is clear that this strategy is a continuation of what has gone before. Encouraging the alcohol industry to become a responsible sector voluntarily has so far proven fruitless. The industry is in the business of selling alcohol - how can it also lead the charge on promoting public health and reducing alcohol related harm? This is evident in the pledges that the industry is willing to sign up to, they are the least likely to make an impact on alcohol-related harm and, subsequently, the least impact on profits.


Commitments to achieve labelling standards will be overseen by the Portman Group. The labelling system requires alcohol companies to provide clear unit information, recommended daily limits and a warning to pregnant drinkers. In addition a voluntary element asks producers to consider including a reference to Drinkaware Trust and a slogan such as ‘please drink responsibly’. [19] This is not a new role for the Portman Group the industry already has a voluntary labelling code for strengthening the health messages on alcohol labels, however the industry has failed to implement its own voluntary code. In 1998 and again in 2007 the government and alcohol industry announced that by the end of 2008 alcohol bottles would carry health warnings on the labels, Ministers warned that if the alcohol industry did not adhere to the voluntary code then legislation would enforce formal regulation. [20] Compliance rates have been low. A report commissioned by the Department of Health in 2009 found that only 15% of the industry's labelling conformed to the self regulatory code. [21] This research was undertaken by Campden Brewing Research International a research company who also lobby politicians on the health benefits of beer. [22] Perhaps unsurprisingly Alcohol Concern's research into labelling standards found that only 4% of alcohol labels adhered to the voluntary code. [23]

Alcohol Unit Information

Again the Portman Group will oversee efforts by the alcohol industry to provide clear information on how many alcohol units are contained within products. This commitment was not undertaken in the 1998 or 2007 deals between government and alcohol producers on off sale products. Efforts to include such information on on sale alcohol has been agreed to by some individual producers how this happens is in the hands of the industry, again no mandatory regulation is proposed despite previous failure to comply.

Awareness of Alcohol Units, Calories & other information in the Off-trade

This proposal aims to provide consumers with more information on the health consequences of alcohol intake. A recent survey found that 82% of people had no idea how many calories their alcohol consumption accounted for. [24] Alcohol concern research also suggests that in adults who drink alcohol around 10% of their calorific intake comes from their alcohol intake. [25] Tackling rising levels of obesity and alcohol related harm are important parts of the responsibility deal and this pledge addresses both.

Self Regulation Previous commitments made by the alcohol industry have amounted to little. Reviews published monitoring the alcohol industry's adherence to voluntary regulation routinely finds the industry falling short on its commitments. A review from Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Association found the industry routinely failing to put commitments into practice and of ignoring industry self regulatory codes on how alcohol is promoted. [26] The 1998 agreement to include unit information found 43% had none of the agreed information and only 3% had fully applied the agreed commitments.[27]

Lansley Thanks Industry

Andrew Lansley the UK's Health Minister praised the alcohol industry for their efforts to improve public health at the 2011 Wine & Spirit Trade Association annual conference on 14th September 2011. This is surprising given the lack of action that is evident in moves to improve alcohol related health and rates of harm. Chris Mercer reporting for the trade publication Just Drinks noted the health secretary said "Thank You" to the alcohol industry "at least 5 times in the first ten minutes of his speech" [28] Mercer continued " heaped praise on the industry's commitment to the government's 'responsibility deal' to reduce alcohol harm. He also reinforced the official line that this Government prefers "voluntary action" over regulation. Hard-talking, anti-alcohol health lobbyists have largely been driven underground by a Government that prioritises business and dislikes intervention" [29] These "anti-alcohol health lobbyists" are in fact public health advocates who propose evidence based alcohol control polices, and are therefore the enemy of the alcohol industry.

ASDA Defends decision to sell wine at £2.48 a bottle

As one of the signatories to the Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network ASDA has pledged voluntarily not to sell alcohol at below the cost of duty and VAT. In January 2012 the supermarket were forced to defend their decision to sell bottles of First Cape’s Australian Devil’s Cove for £2.48 per bottle. According to Christine Boggis writing in Off Licence News "with duty on a bottle of wine at £1.80, VAT on the duty alone takes the price to £2.16 – leaving just 32p for the cost of the wine." [30] This seriously undermines ASDA's commitment to the responsibility deal and further questions their suitability to work in partnership with government on such schemes. It also calls into question this supermarket's, and the Portman Group's ability to self regulate.

Collective Alcohol Network Pledges

  • By December 2013 over 80% of products will be labelled with clear unit content, NHS guidelines and a warning about drinking when pregnant. For a full list of signatories to this pledge see Signatories to Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network Labelling Pledge
  • Provide information for on-trade products on unit content and explore ways of communicating health messages
  • Provide information for off-trade products on unit and calorie content and NHS guidelines
  • Ensure action taken to reduce and prevent under-age sales of alcohol
  • Continue to fund Drinkaware Trust and the “Why let the Good times go bad?” campaign as set out in the Memoranda of Understanding between Industry, Government and Drinkaware Trust.
  • Further action on advertising and marketing with the development of a new sponsorship code requiring the promotion of responsible drinking, not putting alcohol adverts on outdoor poster sites within 100m of schools and adhering to the Drinkaware brand guidelines to ensure clear and consistent usage.
  • Provide support for schemes appropriate for local areas to address issues around social and health harms, and will act together to improve joined up working between such schemes operating in local areas as: • Best Bar None and Pubwatch, which set standards for on-trade premises • Purple Flag which make awards to safe, consumer friendly areas • Community Alcohol Partnerships, which currently support local partnership working to address issues such as under-age sales and alcohol related crime, are to be extended to work with health and education partners in local Government • Business Improvement Districts, which can improve the local commercial environment. [31]

Individual Pledges agreed between partners and Co-Chairs

  • Asda by 30th April 2011 will no longer display alcohol in the foyers of our stores
  • Asda will provide an additional £1m to tackle alcohol misuse by young people
  • Heineken aim to remove 100 million units of alcohol from the UK market each year through lowering the strength of a major brand by 2013
  • Heineken will distribute 11 million branded glasses into the UK on trade showing alcohol unit information by end of 2011
  • Diageo Three year project to extend the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome UK (NOFAS-UK) “What Do You Tell A Pregnant Woman About Alcohol” programme across England & Wales to inform over 1 million pregnant women of what they need to know about alcohol in pregnancy
  • Diageo, Molson Coors, Heineken & Bacardi Brown Forman together commit to working with the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) and The Home Office to support the continuation and further development of the Best Bar None scheme for at least the next three years. Invest at least £500,000 (commencing May 2011) and add a further 20 schemes in that time.
  • Community Alcohol Partnerships (& supporting partners) will expand the reach of Community Alcohol Partnerships (CAPs) in the UK through an investment of at least £800,000 by alcohol retailers and producers over the next three years. This will significantly increase the number of CAP schemes in local communities and extend their remit beyond tackling under-age sales to wider alcohol-related harm. [32]

Monitoring and Evaluation Group

Invited Attendees to Initial Meetings

Dr Adrian Bonner Institute for Alcohol Studies | Alison Douglas (Observer) The Scottish Government | Alison Rogers British Liver Trust | Andrew Opie British Retail Consortium | Brigid Simmonds British Beer and Pub Association | Bruce Ray Bacardi Brown Forman Brands | Chris Heffer Department of Health | Don Shenker Alcohol Concern | Erik Castenskiold Mitchell and Butler | Guy Mason Morrisons PLC | Sir Ian Gilmore Alcohol Health Alliance | Jonathon Shepherd Cardiff University | Kay Wheelton The Co-operative | Kieran Simpson Heineken UK | Kirsten Wolfe SABMiller | Laura Davies Wine & Spirit Trade Association | Liam Hughes Local Government Association | Mark Bellis North West Public Health Observatory | Dr Martin Lombard National Clinical Director for Liver Disease | Michelle Norman Constellation Wines Australia and Europe | Nick Sheron University of Southampton | Owen Davies (Observer) Welsh Assembly Government | Paul Kelly ASDA | Paul Lincoln National Heart Forum | Richard Cochrane Bibendum Wine Ltd | Rob Phipps (Observer) | Northern Ireland Government | Sarah Woolnough Cancer Research UK | Scott Wilson Molson Coors | Seymour Fortescue Portman Group | Vicki Nobles Diageo GB | Prof. Vivienne Nathanson British Medical Association

Related Responsibility Deal Networks


  1. Department of Health, Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network 30th November 2010, accessed 7th September 2011
  2. Department of Health Alcohol Network Update Newsletter No 1 – July 2011 accessed 7th September
  3. Department of Health, Alcohol Network Update Newsletter No 1 – July 2011 accessed 7th September
  4. Department of Health, Responsibility Deal Partners no date given, accessed 8th September 2011
  5. Department of Health, The Public Health Responsibility Deal Core Commitments no date given, accessed 28th September 2011
  6. Department of Health, Paper for 14th September Meeting a public health responsibility Deal accessed 10th September 2011
  7. BBC News, Health groups reject 'responsibility deal' on alcohol 11th March 2011, accessed 8th September 2011
  8. The Royal College of Physicians, Key health organisations do not sign responsibility deal 14th March 2011, accessed 13th September 2011
  9. Alcohol Concern, Alcohol Concern pulls out of 'responsibility deal on alcohol' 14th March 2011, accessed 4th October 2011
  10. British Association for the Study of the Liver, BASL and other key health organisations do not sign responsibility deal 14th March 2011, accessed 4th October 2011
  11. British Liver Trust, British Liver Trust declines to join the Government’s Responsibility Deal for Alcohol 14th March accessed 4th October 2011
  12. British Medical Association, Key health organisations do not sign responsibility deal 14th March 2011, accessed 4th October 2011
  13. Institute of Alcohol Studies, Press Release Statement from the Institute of Alcohol Studies Public Health Responsibility Deal for Alcohol 14th March 2011, accessed 4th October 2011
  14. Royal College of Physicians, Key health organisations do not sign responsibility deal 14th March 2011, accessed 4th October 2011
  15. Department of Health, Alcohol Network Update Newsletter No 1 – July 2011 accessed 7th September
  16. Gemma McKenna Thursday, 27 September 2012 Government's zeal for minimum pricing means 'pause' in industry co-operation, warns WSTA accessed 27th September 2012
  17. Gemma McKenna Thursday, 27 September 2012 Government's zeal for minimum pricing means 'pause' in industry co-operation, warns WSTA accessed 27th September 2012
  18. Institute for Alcohol Studies, Coalition’s alcohol policy comes under attack Alcohol Alert, 2011 Issue 1, accessed 7th September 2011
  19. Portman Group, Responsibility Deal: Alcohol Labelling Details Announced 19th August 2011, accessed 7th September 2011
  20. BBC News, Alcohol Health Warnings by 2008 28th May 2007, accessed 13th September 2011
  21. Department of Health Monitoring Implementation of Alcohol Labelling Regime Stage 2(including advice to women on alcohol and pregnancy) accessed 7th September 2011
  22. Dr Caroline Walker Beer and Health: Bliss Up in a Brewery,Campden Brewing Research International, accessed 4th June 2009
  23. Alcohol Concern, Message on a Bottle July 2009, accessed 7th September 2011
  24. Alcohol Concern Wales, Telephone survey of 1,000 drinkers in Wales, conducted February 2010 by Research and Marketing Plus on behalf of Alcohol Concern. Copies of survey results available from Alcohol Concern Cymru
  25. Alcohol Concern, Alcohol and calories: briefing accessed 13th September 2011
  26. Department of Health, Monitoring Implementation of Alcohol Labelling Regime(including advice to women on alcohol and pregnancy) June 2008, accessed 30th June 2010
  27. Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association Group, Monitoring Implementation of Alcohol Labelling Regime (including advice to women on alcohol and pregnancy) accessed 30th June
  28. Chris Mercer, Andrew Lansley the toast of the drinks industry Just Drinks, 14th September 2011, accessed 14th September 2011
  29. Chris Mercer, Andrew Lansley the toast of the drinks industry Just Drinks, 14th September 2011, accessed 14th September 2011
  30. Christine Boggis, £2.48 wine 'above duty and VAT' Off Licence News 20th January 2012
  31. Department of Health, Core Commitments to Responsibility Alcohol Network no date given, accessed 8th September 2011
  32. Department of Health, Alcohol Network Update Newsletter No 1 – July 2011 accessed 7th September
  33. Department of Health, Alcohol Network Update Newsletter No 1 – July 2011 accessed 7th September