WHO Should Not Support Alcohol Industry Co‐Regulation of Public Health Labelling
The World Health Organization (WHO)’s proposal for an action plan on alcohol for 2022–30 envisages that the alcohol industry be a co‐regulator with government of consumer information, including health warnings, on alcoholic beverage labels. From a public health perspective, there are cogent reasons why industry co‐regulation of alcohol labelling is very unwise,” said the authors of the editorial, as per Wiley Online Library.Paula O’Brien, Tim Stockwell, Kate Vallance and Robin Room, authors of the editorial
The World Health Organization (WHO) is undertaking important work to develop a new action plan on alcohol for 2022–30. However, the WHO’s published proposal for the action plan envisages that the alcohol industry be a co‐regulator with government of consumer information, including health warnings, on alcoholic beverage labels.
From a public health perspective, industry co‐regulation of alcohol labelling is unwise. Product labelling is a strategy with the potential to contribute to reducing consumption and harms from alcohol—but not when labelling is in the hands of the alcohol industry. Alcohol industry labelling schemes have been plagued with problems, and the industry is on the public record opposing effective health labelling. Public health labelling of alcohol should be designed in accordance with the evidence, administered and enforced by government to maximize the benefits for the public.
The WHO’s proposal that the industry co‐regulate alcohol labelling arises in the context of the WHO Executive Board decision, in February 2020, to develop an action plan to strengthen the implementation of the Global Strategy on Alcohol.
The WHO’s proposal for the action plan makes some attempt to ring‐fence alcohol policy from interference by the alcohol industry. However, very concerningly, the WHO invites the industry to ‘ensure, within co‐regulatory frameworks, the availability of easily‐understood consumer information on the labels of alcoholic beverages (including composition, age limits, health warning and contraindications for alcohol use).’
Co‐regulation is a form of industry self‐regulation, where the government and the industry share the regulatory roles. The government might design the rules and the industry might administer and enforce them—or vice‐versa. The endorsement by the WHO of a co‐regulatory approach to alcohol labelling is misguided for (at least) the following three reasons.
- First, the effectiveness of labels as a public health intervention depends upon their content and design, and it is highly unlikely that the industry would follow the emerging evidence base in creating a co‐regulatory alcohol labelling regime.
- Secondly, the industry has a poor track record of operating self‐regulatory arrangements for alcohol health warning labels. For example the alcohol industry’s DrinkWise, voluntary labelling scheme in Australia was a failure, with only 47.8% of packaged alcoholic beverages were found to bear the alcohol use and pregnancy logo.
- Thirdly, there is illogicality in entrusting labelling regulation to an industry which publicly opposes effective health labelling. For example, in 2018, the Brewers Association of Australia told a government consultation that: ‘there is no shortage of health/nutritional information for consumers. Through mobile devices consumers can scan barcodes or QR codes to have all the information they could ever want literally at their fingertips. The label is simply out‐dated’. At the international level, the industry has opposed the development of a new Codex Alimentarius alcohol labelling standard. The industry has also not been shy about making legal threats to challenge new alcohol labelling measures.