News & Politics

Alcohol Companies Pushing Back Against Negative Health Warnings

Cheers! Maybe.

At a brewers’ conference this spring, an alcohol lobbyist fired a warning shot in what has become a multimillion-dollar global battle. Public-health officials “want to tell you that alcohol causes cancer,” Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute, told the crowd. The industry, she said, was in danger of losing its “health halo.”

For decades, beer, wine and liquor producers have been helped by a notion, enshrined in a number of governments’ dietary advice, that a little alcohol can provide modest coronary and other health benefits.

Rapidly, that advice is shifting as health-policy officials around the world scrutinize their previous advice in the light of research pointing to possible cancer risks.

The change is pressuring the alcohol industry in some of its biggest markets, including the U.S., the U.K. and Russia. Its response is as expensive and sprawling as the threat it perceives, including attacking anti-alcohol advocates’ research and working with governments to formulate policy. Alcohol companies are also funding their own research, including a plan by four companies to contribute tens of millions dollars toward the cost of a rigorous study.

Said Beer Institute President Jim McGreevy, addressing executives at an April conference about the alcohol critics: “We can’t let them gain traction.”

It’s always good go know that someone is on your side, right?

Booze probably belongs in the company of bacon and coffee. All of them are either going to kill you or make you live longer, depending on the news that week. Eggs used to be in the group too, but they’ve been enjoying a rather sustained run of good press among non-vegans in recent years. Good for you, eggs.

Given the-ahem-fluid nature of the warning/praise cycle for alcohol, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to panic about a pint or two.

The U.S. government has recently backed off of saying that there may be an upside to enjoying an adult beverage or two, but they’re not completely committed to that position yet. They just want to check it out a little more:

Also in January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services scrapped the part of its guidelines that said light drinking could lower the risk of heart disease for some people. Asked why, an HHS spokeswoman said more review was needed “to better understand health outcomes that may or may not be associated with moderate alcohol consumption.”

I’m available for research help, by the way.

As for those government recommendations, let’s remember that the feds are the ones who got the food pyramid wrong for decades and kept exhorting us to floss even though there never seemed to be a medical reason to do so.

Maybe the recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt.

Until they say that just one grain is going to kill you, of course.