Maverick Citizen

MAVERICK CITIZEN OP-ED

The EU must stop doing Big Alcohol’s dirty work

The EU must stop doing Big Alcohol’s dirty work

The products and practices of the alcohol industry cause massive harm in African communities, but the EU still colludes with Big Alcohol to interfere with South Africa’s alcohol policy development.

A representation of the European Union to South Africa has invited major alcohol industry front groups and alcohol producers — from Europe — to jointly interfere in the development of alcohol policy solutions by the South African government.

In response, community groups and civil society organisations — especially from Europe and Africa — stood up in solidarity with our South African sisters and brothers to denounce the EU’s collusion with Big Alcohol. In an open letter to European and African leaders, we made three requests for change.

Here is the issue: In an email to spiritsEurope, FoodDrinkEurope, the CEEV — industry lobby front groups — and Pernod Ricard — one of the biggest alcohol producers in the world, the head of trade and economics of the EU representation to South Africa requested an expression of interest regarding the “definition of a number of activities that we would like to carry out together with the industry concerned in South Africa”. The subject line of this email illustrates the intention of the joint EU-Big Alcohol activities: “Alcohol ban in South Africa and need to define public diplomacy activities to avoid/mitigate other bans”.

Clearly, the EU representation to South Africa is encouraging its alcohol lobbyists and producers to supplant and subvert the role of the South African government in protecting people and communities from alcohol harm.

To make matters even worse, the EU representative offered part-funding to Big Alcohol for these activities. But the alcohol industry, especially the few gigantic multinational alcohol corporations located mainly in Europe and North America, is one of the most profitable industries in the world. A study published in March 2020 showed that global alcohol sales totalled more than $1.5-trillion in 2017. Much of this is controlled by a small number of transnational alcohol corporations, including Pernod Ricard and AB InBev (the owner of SABMiller). Big Alcohol is an oligopoly and this structure helps generate high profits per dollar invested relative to other industries, which in turn fund gigantic spending on lobbying and marketing.

Why would the European Union, why would any government, offer part-funding to this industry?

The EU representation must be really committed to collude with the alcohol industry and interfere in South Africa’s public health policymaking processes. The alcohol industry certainly has a track record of delaying, derailing and destroying the attempts that are being made to protect people from harm with the use of smart and scientifically proven alcohol policy solutions.

Alcohol’s real cost

The African region, including South Africa as a high-burden country, already carries the disproportionately heaviest alcohol burden, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Alcohol is the second-largest risk factor for disease burden in the age group of 10 to 24. It is the number one risk factor for disease burden in the age group 25 to 49 — two facts that really matter for the youthful population of South Africa and all other African countries.

Considering this heavy alcohol toll in general and the lethal interaction between alcohol and the coronavirus pandemic in particular, the plans of the EU representation to South Africa to collude with Big Alcohol are appalling.

The email revealing the collusion between the European Union External Action and Big Alcohol against the people of South Africa provides insights into activities that are likely taking place in other African countries.

As communities from around the world, we stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in South Africa and across the African continent where the products and practices of the alcohol industry are wreaking havoc.

We call on the European Union External Action to apologise to the people of South Africa. We urge the European Union External Action to terminate any effort to support and coordinate with the alcohol industry to interfere in public policymaking aimed at protecting people against the harm and suffering the alcohol industry is causing in the first place.

We request the EU and its member states to stop subsidising the alcohol industry and its unethical business practices in Africa and around the world.

The actions of the EU representation to South Africa are peak hypocrisy. The EU just released its landmark Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, including the goal to reduce per capita alcohol use by 10% across the European Union. At the WHO, EU member states have called alcohol a public health priority and have requested accelerated action — but in South Africa, the EU representation is set to oppose a public-health approach to the products and practices of Big Alcohol.

The people of South Africa are suffering from preventable alcohol harm. Human potential is lost and development impeded by this avoidable cause.

The solutions exist: in Europe and at the WHO, the representatives of the EU back these proven alcohol policy solutions:

  • Higher alcohol taxes and a floor price in order to deal with Big Alcohol’s avalanche of ultra-cheap products and to generate much-needed revenue for health promotion;
  • Reduced alcohol availability through sensible opening hours, better outlet density regulation and an improved age limit; and
  • A ban on alcohol advertising, sponsorship and promotions to protect the health and development of children and youth against the alcohol industry.

These are policy solutions that work in other African countries and around the world, and that are recommended by the WHO.

The alcohol industry knows they work. That’s why it has derailed their adoption and implementation in South Africa for years. The EU knows these measures work, that’s why they are all included in the Beating Cancer Plan to tackle alcohol effectively as a major cancer risk factor.

But what works and what is good for the people of South Africa is not the issue here. The issue is that the EU representation to South Africa is ready to do the dirty work of Big Alcohol and in so doing to put the profit of a few European oligarchs above the wellbeing of the people in South Africa.

The EU must change course. Political leaders across Africa must reject alcohol industry interference. The people and the communities suffering from the harm Big Alcohol causes are ready to support leaders who stand up against interference in legitimate efforts to tackle harm in order to achieve development for all. DM/MC

Tungamirai Zimonte is the founder and director of Youth against Alcoholism and Drug Dependency and a board member for the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance. Kristina Sperkova is a psychologist, alcohol policy advocate and the international president of Movendi International.

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  • Jon Quirk says:

    Why are they seeking to make whipping boys of the Europeans when health policies in South Africa are clearly under the ambit, and rightly so, of the SA Government? I would understand if the desire was, in keeping with the rest of the World, to increase individual awareness and responsibility towards acting in each citizen’s best interest, but the whole tenor of this article makes no sense beyond inflating the self-importance of these NGOs. Do they have so little regard for the decision-making abilities of all South Africans that they must forever be taken by the hand, told what to eat, drink, perhaps even to think?

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