9 October 2017: A letter from health and alcohol experts has today been published in the Daily Mail, in which they raise their concerns about changes to the guidance issued to alcohol producers by the Portman Group in relation to alcohol labelling. The text of the letter is below.
Since 2007, following a voluntary agreement, alcohol labels in the UK have displayed the unit content, the lower risk limits for consumption and a pregnancy message. In January 2016 the UK’s four Chief Medical Officers introduced new drinking guidelines. The recommendation followed a thorough review of the latest evidence carried out by independent scientific experts, the first review of its kind for 20 years. The CMOs advise that to keep risks low, it is safest for both men and women not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.
Since the introduction of the new guidelines, however, the Portman Group, the alcohol industry-funded body which advises producers on labelling, has now removed its recommendation that producers display the low-risk guidelines on their labels, and no other alcohol industry trade association has published guidance to their members in which they recommend communicating the guidelines.
With alcohol related hospital admissions standing at over one million a year, this is clearly very concerning. We all have a right to know the guidelines, so that we can make informed choices about our drinking. By no longer displaying the lower risk guidelines, the alcohol industry are denying people the information they need.
Alcohol is linked with over 60 diseases and illnesses, including heart disease, liver disease, cancer and depression. Indeed, the change in guidelines was influenced by strengthening evidence of the link between alcohol and seven different types of cancer.
The Government should now introduce compulsory health labelling on all alcohol products, to ensure that drinkers are clear on what constitutes low risk drinking. As well as informing consumers of the guidelines, labels should also outline the specific health risks associated with alcohol, and signpost to independent sources of advice on alcohol and health, such as the NHS website.
Dr Adrian Boyle, Royal College of Emergency Medicine
Professor Colin Drummond, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Professor Frank Murray, Royal College of Physicians of Ireland
Professor Jane Dacre, Royal College of Physicians of London
Shirley Cramer CBE, Royal Society for Public Health
Professor Woody Caan, Faculty of Public Health
Dr Dominique Florin, Medical Council on Alcohol
Dr Kieran Moriarty, British Society of Gastroenterology
Andrew Furber, Association of Directors of Public Health
Professor Graeme Alexander, British Association for the Study of the Liver
Professor Roger Williams, Foundation for Liver Research
Colin Shevills, Balance, the North East Alcohol Office
Katherine Brown, Institute of Alcohol Studies
Alison Douglas, Alcohol Focus Scotland
Dr Eric Carlin, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems
Richard Piper, Alcohol Research UK
Jonathan Shepherd, Crime and Security Research Institute, Cardiff University
Professor Robin Touquet, Imperial College London & St Mary’s Hospital Paddington
Dr Chris Record, Newcastle University
Terry Martin, Alcohelp
Nigel Bongard, Alcohelp
Mark Shepperd, Turning Point
Justina Murray, Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs
John Jolly, Blenheim CDP