The Government has come under renewed attack for its u-turn on minimum pricing last year, prompted by accusations from a BMJ article that the consultation was a "sham". The BMJ investigation revealed that Government health officials and ministers had extensive meetings with alcohol industry groups and retailers during and after the consultation period.
The Government had pledged to introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP) in its 2012 strategy. However by 2013 it was stating it was listening to "powerful arguments on both sides" following the consultation as concerns over industry lobbying were being raised. Sure enough, the Government later confirmed it would not be introducing MUP, and has been accused of distorting the consultation findings.
The BMJ piece extensively explores many of the reported political aspects behind the scenes, including the use and timing of Government commissioned reports. The Home Office requested that the University of Sheffield publish their latest research examining the impacts on minimum pricing on specific income groups at the same time as the u-turn was announced. The research, commissioned 'to inform consultation and impact assessments', strengthened the case for MUP and showed the effect of the chosen 'below cost ban' policy to be negligible, as Sheffield researcher John Holmes explains here.
Health bodies and MUP supporters will no doubt regard the revelations as further evidence of alcohol policy being determined by influential industry lobbyists. Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, special adviser on alcohol to the Royal College of Physicians said: “The drinks industry continues to have high-level access to Government ministers and officials while no forum currently exists for the public health community to put forward its case in an environment free from vested interests.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health said it was unfounded to insinuate the meetings amounted to an improper relationship with the drinks industry. There appears to have been limited response from industry representatives, although a Grocer article rebuked the BMJ piece whilst the parliamentary beer group chairman MP Andrew Griffiths said the BMJ article read like a 'conspiracy theorists blog'.