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Drinks industry rejects offer to be involved alcohol review panel

Drinks industry rejects offer to be involved alcohol review panel

The drinks industry has rebuffed an invitation by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to be involved in a panel reviewing Australia's safe drinking guidelines.

The panel was established in 2016 and will conduct a five-year review into safe alcohol intake levels. 

Alcohol Beverages Australia wrote a letter to Anne Kelso, chief executive of NHMRC, that stated: "This letter is to formally respond to your specific offer in the meeting, to the industry – to put forward a list of names of relevant experts, for consideration by the NHMRC as additional members of the AWC [alcohol working committee].

"Alcohol Beverages Australia members are united in the view that this would be an inappropriate industry intervention in the NHMRC process and would in fact constitute an equal and opposite inflammation of the existing conflicts of interest that currently threaten the independence and integrity of the process.

"The Australian public has every right to expect that neither alcohol industry representatives, nor anti-alcohol activists and temperance zealots, should be involved in the independent review component of the process."

ABA is referring to controversy that surrounded a revelation by Fairfax Media that the review panel included two members with direct associations with Christian-linked temperance organisations that campaign for "alcohol-free social interaction".

Panel member Michael Livingston, for example, is a board member of the Australian Rechabite Foundation, which was established by the the Independent Order of the Rechabites, a temperance society which dates back to the mid-1800s and promotes "total abstinence from alcoholic beverages".

Dr Livingston has refuted the claim: "The ARF is not a temperance society – the board includes people with a range of attitudes to alcohol and the foundation funds research and programs broadly aimed at reducing the negative impacts of alcohol in society. This includes projects that focus on reducing harm from alcohol consumption without targeting abstinence. I am not and have never been a member of a temperance organisation and my work on the board of the ARF has no impact on my ability to provide expert advice on alcohol epidemiology."

Australia currently has one of the strictest health standards in the world for alcohol consumption, at two standard drinks a day. And there is industry concern that the safe drinking benchmark will be lowered further by the panel. 

Taylor has again called for the NHMRC to "remove the conflicted members of the AWC".

"Or at the very least, put in place conflict management plans to the extent the industry and the public may have confidence restored in the independence and objectivity of the process," he said.

A spokeswoman for the NHMRC told Fairfax the offer to consider candidates for the panel put forward by the ABA had been its attempt to address this: "NHMRC remains confident that the AWC comprises the most eminent researchers and experts in alcohol research in Australia." 


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