A recent exposé on Follow The Money reveals that Big Alcohol has inserted its propaganda and misinformation into a training course for Dutch healthcare practitioners. Even more concerning than this conflict of interest is the fact that some major oversight led four professional organizations to offer accreditation for this course. Since the revelations by Follow The Money the four organizations have either withdrawn their accreditation, are planning to do so, or have put the course on hold.

We all want to enjoy a high quality of life, in good physical and mental health. Many people are reconsidering the role alcohol plays in their lives and communities as they realize the harm alcohol causes to well-being and other aspects of a good quality of life. Young people stay alcohol-free much longer than previous generations and more and more people reduce or quit alcohol use.

But alcohol companies do not like this trend of more health ans sustainability conscious people and communities ditching their products to enjoy a higher quality of life and experience more inclusive social environments. The alcohol industry is working relentlessly to create the illusion that their products are healthy and that all people like to have alcohol everywhere, all the time. They work to keep people in the dark about the real harm their products and practices are causing.

Big Alcohol continues to use flawed, biased, or outdated research in their campaign to sow doubt about the extent and seriousness of the harms their products and practices cause, and to convince people that “moderate” alcohol use was good for health. A growing body of independent and world class science shows that there is no healthy or safe amount of alcohol use.

Nevertheless, the alcohol industry has recently succeeded with inserting misinformation about the health effects of their products into a training course offered to health practitioners. This training course even got accredited by four health organizations.

But after Follow The Money exposed the conflict of interest and the flawed training course content, the accreditation has been withdrawn or the course put on hold by these organizations. However, considerable damage has already been done.

In 2015 the Dutch Health Council updated its alcohol guidelines to say “do not drink alcohol and if you drink, then a maximum of one glass a day”. By 2021, 46% of the population was adhering to this guideline. However, the Dutch Beer Institute still included outdated information on their website, listing two glasses of alcohol as “moderate” consumption for men. This is against the country’s health guidance and has not been updated for seven years.

There is no top scientist who still dares to claim that moderate alcohol consumption has health benefits,” wrote Dr. René Kahn, Professor of psychiatry in his book Op je gezondheid? (To your health?), as per Follow The Money.

Dr. René Kahn, Professor of psychiatry

The Dutch Beer Institute is a front group for the beer industry. It is funded by the Association of Dutch Brewers, meaning some of the world’s biggest beer giants are behind it, such as AB InBev and Heineken.

Scientific evidence has proven that there is no safe level of alcohol for all-cause mortality. A study published in The Lancet has confirmed this fact and found that the risks for premature death, cancer, and accidents, etc. start increasing from any amount of alcohol above zero.

Another study published in The Lancet that the alcohol industry likes to cite found that people who consume 100 grams of alcohol per week, or ten units, have the lowest risk of all-cause mortality. It also found that small amounts of alcohol increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, except for a heart attack. However, the researchers themselves admit limitations to the study which must be considered when interpreting results. The limitation is that other healthy lifestyle factors such as exercise or diet in those who consume only one unit of alcohol a day can be affecting the results; thus, the reduced mortality can be due to these other health factors and not due to alcohol. In this type of epidemiological study while attempts are made to control for confounding factors it may not always work according to professor of nutrition Martijn Katan.

Both professors point out that the proven relationship is when sick people, people who use drugs, and previous alcohol users are removed from the group of abstainers there is a linear relationship between alcohol consumption and total mortality. The higher the alcohol consumption the more damage is caused.

Big Alcohol misinforms the public and healthcare professionals

Big Alcohol is doing everything they can to muddy the science about alcohol harm by continuing to misinform the public. The alcohol industry continues to claim “moderate” alcohol use was good for health. To do this the alcohol industry continues to use outdated research from 2006 showing the “J curve”. According to the curve consuming one glass of alcohol a day would lead to health gains compared to not using alcohol or using higher amounts of alcohol. Furthermore, as per this research men who use up to four and women who use up to two units of alcohol per day are claimed to have a lower risk of premature death.

The researcher of this 2006 study Augusto Di Castelnuovo received money in 2014 from the Dutch Beer Institute as a member of the organization of the seventh European Beer and Health Symposium, a group of European beer brewers. A fellow researcher of the study acted as a speaker at a more recent edition of that symposium. This shows how the alcohol industry buys industry-friendly research.

Augusto Di Castelnuovo himself somewhat disputed his previous research when he updated the study last year by cleaning up the abstainers group. Now the study says that there is a lower risk of death at 5 grams of alcohol per day which is half a unit: 50 milliliters of wine, 125 milliliters of beer or 17.5 milliliters of strong liquor. This is not a unit of measurement used in bars or restaurants. Usually, the amount of alcohol poured is about three times as much.

In recent years, independent science has disproved the claim of health benefits from alcohol use.

However, alcohol industry-funded front groups Dutch Beer Institute and the Foundation for Responsible Alcohol Consumption continue to cherry-pick this outdated 2006 research to include in their misinformation campaign.

Misinformation as accredited course for health professionals

This outdated, flawed, and biased research even entered into The Dutch Beer Institute’s free online course ‘Alcohol and Health’. By some serious oversight, this course was accredited by four professional organizations. Dieticians, practice nurses of general practitioners, diabetes nurses, and weight consultants could earn five points for completing this training.

The exam questions in this course show how the alcohol industry attempts to manipulate health practitioners.

The exam asks test takers to answer yes or no to the statement, ‘The so-called J-curve that illustrates the link between alcohol consumption and premature death is now outdated’. Despite the correct answer being ‘yes’, the exam registers ‘no’ as the correct answer.

Health practitioners who completed this training course are taught alcohol industry messaging.

Talking points directly from the Dutch Beer Institute and the Foundation for Responsible Alcohol Consumption (STIVA) have been used to misinform course participants, for example: “The Netherlands has one of the strictest alcohol guidelines in Europe” and that “you live longer if you drink alcohol moderately”. 

After the exposé from Follow The Money two of the professional organizations have withdrawn their accreditation, one is considering doing so, and one has put the course on hold.

The big problem however is that alcohl industry propaganda, not evidence-based public health information, got into a course accredited by professional organizations for healthcare practitioners in the first place.

Nurses and medical assistants need to learn about the effect of beer and wine on health. And we let the beer industry provide education about this? Insane. These are the disastrous consequences of transferring government tasks to the market. Market forces destroy more than you would like,” said Dr. René Kahn, Professor of psychiatry, as per Follow The Money.

Dr. René Kahn, Professor of psychiatry

Systematic effort to keep people in the dark about the true harm of alcohol

Another website by the alcohol industry that provided false information is alcoholguideline.nl. The website is designed to appear like an official website. In reality it is a campaign by the alcohol industry body STIVA. This website disputes the actual national alcohol guideline by using industry-influenced research in an effort to keep the public in the dark and sow doubt about the true harm caused by the products and practices of alcohol companies.

STIVA also attempted – ultimately unsuccessfully – to get the national alcohol guideline changed by using views from industry-friendly scientists.

Upon questioning from Follow The Money, STIVA has shied away from taking responsibility claiming the website was not the main focus for a while and that perhaps it should be taken down now since it has not been updated. Now, the website shows a “temporarily unavailable” message.

Big Alcohol continues to thwart alcohol policy making in Netherlands

This is certainly not the only time Big Alcohol has infiltrated public health efforts to protect people from alcohol harm in the Netherlands in pursuit of their own profits and to the detriment of people and communities in the Netherlands.

As a result of the alcohol industry getting a seat at the alcohol policy table, The National Prevention Agreement signed in 2018 does not include a single alcohol policy best buy solution. The alcohol industry also significantly watered down the harmful effects of alcohol in the agreement.

The alcohol industry has also got a permanent seat in the alcohol policy by being an official participant in the alcohol policy table discussions held twice a year.

Several health organizations are even considering withdrawing their consultation since they do not want to sit with the alcohol industry.

Source Website: Follow The Money [translated from Dutch]