Big Alcohol has unleashed an aggressive battle on two public health fronts. Industry lobbyists are attacking the new and improved guidelines for alcohol use in Australia which have reduced the recommended limit for alcohol use to lower health risks from alcohol. At the same time the industry is calling a study ‘junk science’ for exposing the ugly side of Big Alcohol interference by misusing scientific evidence.

Industry attack against the new low-risk guidelines

In December 2020, Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) updated their low-risk guidelines for alcohol use. One of the improvements in the new guidelines is reducing the recommended amount of low-risk alcohol use per week from 14 to 10 units of alcohol.

It has already been scientifically proven that no amount of alcohol is safe and completely risk-free for consumption. Governments issue guidelines for alcohol use to reduce population risk of alcohol-related harm.

The NHMRC guidelines were prepared through a robust three-year scientific process involving leading researchers and experts.

As Movendi International has reported previously, the alcohol industry has been aggressively lobbying against updating the guidelines in Australia in fear that greater awareness of alcohol’s health risks would affect alcohol consumption and thus reduce their profits. Now, even after the guidelines have been issued Big Alcohol keeps attacking it with baseless accusations.

Alcoholic Beverages Australia (ABA), the lobby front group for the alcohol industry in Australia, has leveled several accusations against the guidelines. These include that Australians will not “relate” to the guidelines and hence they won’t work and that the NHMRC was deliberately set to lower the guidelines. The industry also seems to have a problem with the panel which was chosen to review the guidelines.

The guidelines are based on scientific data all of which is available to the public via the NHMRC website. The NHMRC also provides a simple summary of the scientific reasons in the ‘Plain English Summary’ for each improved guideline.

When all the scientific evidence shows that there is no safe level for alcohol use and any alcohol use increases the risk for a host of diseases including cancers, cognitive impairment, mental health issues, accidents, injuries and harm to other people, and the negative health, social and economic impact on all of Australia is taken into consideration, the evidence is clear that reducing the recommended low-risk amounts for alcohol use is reasonable and in the public interest.

The guidelines were developed by NHMRC, guided by a group of independent health experts including doctors, medical and public health professionals, researchers and consumer representatives on the Alcohol Working Committee. The guidelines were reviewed and endorsed by NHMRC Council which includes the Chief Medical Officers of the Commonwealth and each State and Territory, together with leaders in health, research and ethics.

The fact that Big Alcohol opposes these guidelines developed by experts and supported by consumers, through a rigorous scientific process, shows their priorities are profit maximization and not public health and safety.

Big Alcohol furious about study exposing their misuse of scientific evidence

A new study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that the alcohol industry is “distorting scientific evidence” in its attempts to influence government policy.

The study examined 214 submissions from 2013 to 2017 and found 91% denied the effectiveness of evidence-based strategies. 

The most common denial practices were:

  • Making unsubstantiated claims about adverse effects of policies (76%), and
  • Promoting alternatives without evidence (71%).

The misuse of scientific evidence was apparent in 66% of submissions.

Trade associations, producers, and retailers were most likely to use such practices.

We know that they have these inherent conflicts of interests, given that they make and sell and promote alcohol products but they are making these submissions that contain quite gross misrepresentations of evidence,” said Julia Staffords, lead author and PhD candidate with the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University, as per ABC News.

Julia Staffords, lead author and PHD candidate, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University

Big Alcohol misrepresents evidence in lobby campaign against local alcohol policy improvements

Another example for Big Alcohol’s misuse of data in their lobbying comes from the industry attack on the city of Newcastle’s life-saving package of liquor licensing regulations. The laws included reductions in late trading hours, alcoholic beverage strength controls and an earlier curfew. But Big Alcohol lobby groups claim the laws were not supported by evidence and had led to loss of jobs and closure of small businesses. In truth, evidence shows that non-domestic assaults have reduced while the number of smaller bars and licensed restaurants increased in Newcastle since the improvement of alcohol availability rules.

  • Between 2008 and 2017, the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) reported weekend night non-domestic assaults in inner Newcastle had fallen by 72%.
  • Local police figures showed that the number of smaller bars and licensed restaurants over the same period and roughly within the same location, increased by around 110%.

Sensible proven controls are an anathema to a thirsty industry whose competitive business models are based on the profit maximization and growth imperative within a weakening liquor compliance environment,” wrote Tony Brown, Newcastle resident to the editor of the Newcastle Herald.

Tony Brown, Newcastle resident

Misuse of evidence and denial: Big Alcohol’s campaign against improved alcohol guidelines

Proving the industry’s own denial of scientific evidence (again) the ABA attacked the results of the new study which exposes the Big Alcohol’s denial and misuse of science.

The ABA consists of and is funded by transnational alcohol giants such as Asahi Brewers from Japan, Diageo Spirits from the UK, Pernod Ricard from France, Coca-Cola Amatil and many others.

But the researchers found:

94% of alcohol industry submissions included at least one instance of misuse or denial of scientifically proven evidence; these practices were found to be consistent across different industry actors, such as major producers and retailers and trade associations.

But measures to curb alcohol industry interference in public health policy making are available, such as provisions to tackle Big Tobacco interference. Increasing evidence of Big Alcohol’s interference and misuse and denial of scientific evidence shows that they are using the same playbook as the tobacco industry. This highlights the need for a global binding treaty on alcohol, similar to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Governments around the world have done this in the tobacco sphere, so we know it is possible to just exclude industry and say you have no role in the policy development process,” said Professor Simone Pettigrew, study co-author, George Institute for Global Health, as per, ABC News.

Professor Simone Pettigrew, study co-author, George Institute for Global Health


FOOD “‘Junk science’: Australia’s $160bn drinks industry fights back against new consumption guidelines and academic attack

ABS News: “Study finds alcohol industry distorts evidence in government submissions

Newcastle Herald: “Newcastle Herald readers have their say: ‘Inconvenient truth’ is distasteful for some