Reducing harm caused by alcohol

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Diageo is failing to provide latest guidelines on their products

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, attended the Diageo AGM to question the alcohol consumption guidelines on their labelling

What is a public health advocate doing at the Diageo AGM you might wonder? Keep reading and find out.

In August I bought one share in Diageo with the advice of Share Action, the activism through shareholding charity, to enable me to attend the Diageo UK AGM to ask the Board why they are failing to provide the Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) low risk guidelines on their products. I questioned how this is compatible with their aim “to become one of the most trusted and respected consumer companies in the world.”

The Chairman Javier Ferrán, claimed that guidance on low risk drinking “has changed” and there was “different guidance from different bodies”. In fact, the UK CMO advice has been in effect since January 2016 and is the definitive advice in the UK.

Following up with Chairman after the AGM he backtracked saying they always keep their labels under review. He stated that as a global company they can’t create labels for every different country. However, over 100 Diageo products surveyed in August by the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) contained the old UK guidelines surely they do create labels for at least some countries. So surely if they can manage to print the old UK guidelines it’s should be simple to update with the new ones.

None of the 100 Diageo products surveyed by the AHA carried the current CMO low-risk guidelines. Even products launched since the CMO guidelines came into effect in January 2016 contain the old daily guideline - including Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla which was released in April this year.

Diageo are not alone amongst the global producers the report published this week by the AHA showed that only 24 of 320 products carried the new CMO guidelines of 14 units a week. We have to ask ourselves why the industry is filing to provide consumers with accurate health information.  

We need reliable health information directly on bottles, cans and menus, where it can usefully inform our decisions. At the moment more information is required on a pint of milk than on a bottle of wine. Referring people to industry-funded websites is not good enough.  The public has a right to know and industry clearly won’t do this voluntarily; it’s time for government to act.