Alcohol abuse does not require over-regulation to be addressed. A voluntary approach through informing consumers of health risks has yielded results and should be pursued further, argues Pierre-Olivier Bergeron.
Pierre-Olivier Bergeron is the secretary general of the Brewers of Europe, an association representing the brewing sector to the EU's institutions.
"We all agree that alcohol misuse needs redress. More people are becoming more aware of the risks of alcohol misuse. The number of underage drinkers is decreasing, so is the number of drink driving deaths. More women are aware of the risks of alcohol during pregnancy.
But these results are not enough because even one fatality is one too many. Alcohol misuse by the minority remains a challenge and Europe’s brewers will not stand idly by.
Inevitably, in some quarters there is the political reflex to turn to more regulation, even though alcoholic beverages are already highly regulated. Brewers believe that in most cases, piling on additional regulation would not actually address the problem, as a blunt-edged, one-size-fits-all bureaucracy will not meet local needs across Europe.
Fortunately, the EU strategy on alcohol-related harm recognises the benefits of a voluntary approach to put in place partnerships to reduce alcohol misuse and deliver results quickly, in tandem with enforcement of existing regulation.
This approach has already yielded results. For example, road deaths attributable to alcohol declined by 34% in the EU between 2000 and 2008.
The portion of the European population aware of potential risks associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy reached 84% in 2009, whilst one presumes the percentage is even higher amongst expectant mothers. Underage drinking has also declined since 2003.
Within the European Alcohol and Health Forum, The Brewers of Europe have launched the European Beer Pledge in February. It is a three-pillar pledge to reinforce the existing EU Strategy to support EU countries in reducing alcohol-related harm.
It will further empower consumers with the knowledge to make informed decisions on their drinking behaviour. The action would use a range of platforms, including new technologies, to increase knowledge of alcoholic strength, the effects of alcohol and responsible beer consumption.
It will also strengthen self-regulation of beer marketing across Europe, in particular with regard to new media, ensuring the systems are also in place for any consumer complaints to be heard and dealt with impartially.
Imagine an industry telling its customers not to consume its product. But that’s one of the results that this pledge will have when it comes to the minority of drinkers who abuse alcohol. The message to young adults being that it is ‘cool’ to drink responsibly and ‘uncool’ to drink too much.
Some critics have said that this example of the Pledge in action is a marketing tool targeting young drinkers. But the brewing sector would be irresponsible not to attack the problem through its marketing. It is part of a set of measures, including multimedia campaigns and social networking that can make a difference in addressing alcohol misuse.
This should not surprise our critics, who either misunderstand or choose to misrepresent our business. Brewers across Europe strive to add value to their beer brands – a brewer’s aim is not simply to increase alcohol consumption per se.
Educating our consumers to drink beer responsibly adds value to our products and delivers the message of a responsible sector. It is good for consumers, good for brewers and also good for regulators.
Europe’s brewers believe that the best way forward is through the multi-stakeholder, partnership approach that the European Commission has championed.
Brewers are the leading contributor to the European Alcohol and Health Forum, having submitted over one third of the 200 plus commitments and we will do more, acting quickly on new frontiers like social media to support Member States in tackling alcohol-related harm."