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Keywords:

  • Alcohol;
  • Australia;
  • collaboration;
  • liquor industry;
  • public health;
  • partnership;
  • social aspects organizations

ABSTRACT

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ALCOHOL EDUCATION AUSTRALIA LTD
  5. METHOD
  6. THE MOO JOOSE CASE
  7. THE OUTCOME
  8. WHAT TO MAKE OF THE CASE
  9. Acknowledgement
  10. Declaration of interest
  11. References

Aim  This paper analyses a partnership between an addiction agency and the drinks industry in Australia, with special reference to concerns held by public health advocates for such projects.

Method  Public health anxieties regarding collaboration between the drugs sector and the drinks industry are identified. A projected partnership between the Alcohol and Drug Foundation—Queensland (ADFQ) and the liquor industry in Australia is reviewed. The partnership involves the creation of a new organization, Alcohol Education Australia Ltd. (AEA), which states as its aim the education of consumers in responsible drinking. In order to assess the impact of the partnership an examination is undertaken of the AEA's stated mission and objectives, of relevant policy development by ADFQ and of ADFQ's intervention in support of an alcohol manufacturer which was putting a case to a licensing authority.

Findings  The results indicate the partnership advances the interests of the drinks industry rather than public health. The mission and objectives of Alcohol Education Australia Ltd subordinate public health goals to industry aims and the host organization, the ADFQ, has changed its policy and practice to accommodate the drinks industry.

Conclusion  The partnership between the ADFQ and the drinks industry indicates the difficulty faced by addiction organizations in maintaining an uncompromising public health orientation when in partnership with the alcohol industry.


INTRODUCTION

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ALCOHOL EDUCATION AUSTRALIA LTD
  5. METHOD
  6. THE MOO JOOSE CASE
  7. THE OUTCOME
  8. WHAT TO MAKE OF THE CASE
  9. Acknowledgement
  10. Declaration of interest
  11. References

In recent years the alcohol industry has made a concerted effort to influence the alcohol research agenda and the public policy that is based on its findings [1–4]. Among the tactics adopted by industry bodies are the funding of research centres, research projects and research teams, and sponsorship of scientific meetings, conferences and publications [1,2,5]. While some addiction researchers remain neutral, even sanguine about the role of industry [6], others are alarmed by the revealed and potential repercussions of collaboration [1–5,7–11].

An industry proposal for a formal ‘partnership’ between industry and the public health sector for the purposes of research and policy development caused anxiety among leading researchers [1,2]. Many public health advocates fear that an affiliation of that kind would enable the liquor industry to subordinate the goals of public health to its own [2].

The most sceptical health advocates argue that the industry's commercial interests impel it to adopt views and to act in ways that are incompatible with a public health-orientated partnership. They contend that the industry does not adopt an impartial view of research processes and results, rejects scientific findings and declares some research issues ‘off limits’[1,7,10,12,13]. Industry sponsorship of research has been criticized for directing attention away from problematic use towards issues of moderate consumption and perspectives that place responsibility for alcohol problems on the drinker [1,13]. Moreover, the liquor industry tries to undermine ‘unfriendly’ scientific findings and attacks national and supranational policies that attempt to reduce levels of consumption [1,4,12–15].

The alcohol industry favours measures that are least likely to impact on consumption, such as education, while discouraging those that are shown to be more effective [12,13,16]. The industry is accused of collaborating with health agencies in order to gain respectability and of buying ‘indulgences’ through contributions to prevention [4,15,17]. More recently, industry bodies have created ‘social aspect organizations’ to fund and promote public education [4,18]. Social aspect organizations are convenient because they seemingly offer a proof that the industry has a genuine interest in lessening problems [18]. Across the world in 1996, 32 industry organizations conducted education programmes, an increase of 150% over a decade [18]. Each of them disseminated a message of ‘responsible drinking’ or ‘personal responsibility’, commonly via the issue of drink driving. Although the programmes lacked ‘objective or rigorous evaluation’, they did succeed in improving the industry's image within the health sector [18]. A particular benefit was the cooperative relationships forged by social aspect organizations between industry, and government and non-government agencies [18].

As the addiction field has not settled a policy on collaboration with the drinks industry [1,4], ‘collaboration’ remains an alluring concept, but pessimists predict that a partnership with industry will blunt the prevention effort. They forecast that collaborative prevention initiatives would shift the focus from broad population strategies to issues of individual consumer choice [2].

ALCOHOL EDUCATION AUSTRALIA LTD

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ALCOHOL EDUCATION AUSTRALIA LTD
  5. METHOD
  6. THE MOO JOOSE CASE
  7. THE OUTCOME
  8. WHAT TO MAKE OF THE CASE
  9. Acknowledgement
  10. Declaration of interest
  11. References

An opportunity to test that thesis arose recently in Australia when the addiction sector was invited to join a venture with the liquor industry. In August 2002, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation—Queensland (ADFQ) announced the formation, in conjunction with the industry, of Alcohol Education Australia Ltd (AEA), to ‘promote responsible drinking and moderation in the consumption of alcohol’[19]. With the distribution of a prospectus-like document, ADFQ invited other addiction organizations to join AEA as ‘community stakeholders’[19].

METHOD

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ALCOHOL EDUCATION AUSTRALIA LTD
  5. METHOD
  6. THE MOO JOOSE CASE
  7. THE OUTCOME
  8. WHAT TO MAKE OF THE CASE
  9. Acknowledgement
  10. Declaration of interest
  11. References

The following analysis is based on the character of the AEA as revealed in the prospectus and on events following its formation which, the author believes, illuminates the likely role of the AEA and the wider implications of the collaboration. The collaboration intersected with the author in two ways. First, the Australian Drug Foundation (ADF), his employer, was invited to join AEA as a community stakeholder. The ADF declined. Secondly, the author advised Liquor Licensing Victoria (LLV) when it refused a licence to a manufacturer who wanted to market an alcoholic milk beverage known as Moo Joose. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation—Queensland supported the manufacturer and justified its support partly by referring to the negative effect AEA's future education campaigns would have on Australia's drinking culture.

This work draws on a set of primary documents that inform those events. It comprises the AEA prospectus published by ADFQ; the decision by LLV to reject Moo Joose; ADFQ's submission in support of Moo Joose; the adjudication by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal of the subsequent appeal; several newspaper and magazine articles and a business letter from the ADFQ to the ADF. While most of those documents [19–26,31] are in the public domain, the interested reader may find access to them difficult. In that case, the author can supply them on request.

The host, Alcohol and Drug Foundation—Queensland, is a non-government, not-for-profit body with a 30-year history. It conducts treatment services in residential, custodial and community settings, a ‘Natural High’ prevention programme, an annual conference, and publishes a quarterly magazine. ADFQ has been a strong advocate on alcohol issues and has a record of opposing some activities of the industry. Notably, for the present context, it advocated banning a ‘designer drink’ because it would encourage minors to take up drinking [20].

According to the AEA prospectus: ‘The Company is owned by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation—Queensland, and was set up as a separate legal entity for the purpose of being recognised as a national public health organisation’[19]. A board of nine directors will govern AEA, three appointed by each of ADFQ, industry stakeholders, and community stakeholders. The board's structure ‘. . . is designed to encourage decision making by consensus in the spirit of collaboration’[19]. The prospectus indicates (unnamed) beer, wine and spirits interests, said to comprise over 90% of the Australian alcohol beverages market, have given ‘in principle’ support and will provide ‘ongoing funding’ for the organization [19]. AEA will seek additional finance from public sources for its activities that will include mass media campaigns, research, education and advice to industry [19]. AEA is described as the ‘independent social conscience’ that will encourage industry stakeholders to think of themselves as ‘responsible caring citizens’ when they advertise their products [19].

The formation of AEA is predicated on the view that liquor industry and public health interests are complementary: ‘It is important that the alcohol industry manages its social responsibility and works in collaboration with the public health organisation to give the consumer a “manual of instruction” for its products’[19]. Further, AEA will obtain ‘. . . health and social outcomes together with good business outcomes for the industry’[19]. AEA will achieve those results by teaching the consumer to appreciate ‘product taste and quality rather than intoxicating effects’[21].

The founding text represents the interests of the alcohol industry. AEA intends ‘to position alcohol products in such a way as to legitimise alcohol as a beneficial and useful commodity and to give it its rightful place in human activities’[19]. Four of the 10 objectives concern promoting moderate, responsible or safe drinking, three refer to providing information about alcohol, two denote research and one states ‘to minimise the damage caused by alcohol abuse’[19]. The option of not drinking is not mentioned. The objective that designates the classic public health goal, minimizing damage, is ranked sixth. Alcohol problems will not be the subject of AEA's work as AEA will seek ‘a social “blueprint” model that links alcohol to conviviality rather than to problems’[19].

THE MOO JOOSE CASE

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ALCOHOL EDUCATION AUSTRALIA LTD
  5. METHOD
  6. THE MOO JOOSE CASE
  7. THE OUTCOME
  8. WHAT TO MAKE OF THE CASE
  9. Acknowledgement
  10. Declaration of interest
  11. References

Within months of forming AEA, ADFQ intervened in a licensing case to support a manufacturer whose application to sell alcoholic milk was rejected by a state licensing authority. Liquor Licensing Victoria (LLV) had judged there was an ‘unacceptable risk’ that Moo Joose would be attractive to children and would exacerbate underage drinking [22]. LLV was concerned that while Moo Joose contained over 5% alcohol by volume, it was to be marketed in flavours of chocolate, banana, strawberry and coffee and would mimic flavoured milk [22]. In Australia, ‘moo juice’ is a colloquialism for milk.

The manufacturer, trading under the name Wicked Holdings Pty Ltd, relied on the ADFQ for advice in its attempt to win a licence on appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal [23,24]. ADFQ suggested that Wicked Holdings change the product name to Alcoholic Moo Joose, change the label design, and advised on the broader marketing strategy [23,25]. Two principals of ADFQ, the president, Alan Soares and the CEO, Bob Aldred, submitted an eight-page statement in defence of Moo Joose and both appeared before the tribunal as witnesses for the manufacturer [21,24].

In supporting Moo Joose, ADFQ reversed a previous policy. In 1997 ADFQ declared Candy Shots, a vodka-based premixed drink marketed in flavours of chocolate, banana, caramel and marshmallow, ‘dangerous’ and called for proscription. The CEO, Bob Aldred said, ‘But everyone knows that underage drinking occurs and this is just the type of drink that will make it easier for kids to get started’[20].

The arguments ADFQ used to support Moo Joose revealed it had redrawn the contours of the alcohol problem in a way that reflected the interests of the drinks industry. That is demonstrated by comparing ADFQ's picture of the alcohol problem in 2000 with its submission to the tribunal in 2003.

In 2000, ADFQ described the national alcohol toll thus:

The disturbing statistics of alcohol related harm addressed in the National Alcohol Action Plan 2000–03 Consultation Draft reveal the terrible human tragedy and high cost of alcohol related harm in Australia. . . . It details a picture of extensive destruction of human life with almost 4000 deaths per year and alcohol being implicated in a third of road fatalities . . . 44% of fire injuries, 34% of falls and drownings, 50% of assaults, 16% of child abuse, 12% of suicides and 10% of industrial machine accidents. This is not surprising given that 33% of males and 38% of females are consuming alcohol at hazardous or harmful levels’[26].

As ADFQ believed in 2000 that the result of that level of consumption was ‘tragic’, it is noteworthy that when in 2003 it defended alcoholic milk against the charge that it may increase underage drinking, it chose to dis-aggregate similar data for young people. In their submission on Moo Joose, Soares & Aldred stated: ‘. . . the [2001] National Household survey (n = 27000) showed that only 10.7% of 14–19-year-olds had used alcohol at risky and high risk levels in the past week and a further 20.5% in the last month’[21]. They then implied that the problem was overstated: ‘However it is important to take into account the size and nature of the problem and it is a minority of underage drinkers indulging in frequent episodes of binge drinking’[21].

That statement appears to reduce the problem of youth drinking to those who binge each week and it suggests that the larger group of ‘monthly’ binge drinkers is not so problematic. By so delimiting the problem ADFQ reported risky youthful drinking as less significant and, by implication, less of a problem for manufacturers that want to introduce youth-friendly product. Yet all young people who drink at hazardous levels, whether ‘monthly’ or ‘weekly’, are at risk of acute harms [27,28]. Further, heavy drinking is not necessarily a phase young people pass through and cast off—some late adolescent drinking trajectories escalate during early adulthood [29]. The ADFQ might fairly be described here as engaging in an exercise aimed at problem deflation.

The ADFQ representatives introduced Alcohol Education Australia into the debate on Moo Joose as a solution to binge drinking. They suggested that education was more effective than regulation (‘prevention has to be much more than regulating the product’) and predicted AEA's future public campaign for moderation would lower excessive consumption by young people [21].

Other features of ADFQ's defence of Moo Joose were these. The narrow neck of the bottle and the screw top would militate against the risk of drink spiking [21]. The four-pack was ‘a harm minimization strategy’ that would limit consumption [21]. The milk content would prevent excessive use and intoxication. It was the subject of repeated argument:

  • (a) ‘As milk with its component proteins is likely to produce feelings of satiation that may limit the amount consumed . . .’[21].

  • (b) ‘It is possible that the milk content may reduce the rate of absorption of alcohol into the walls of the stomach and small intestine and act like food in delaying the rate of absorption’[21].

  • (c) ‘The fact that the fat content is low is likely to make more attractive (sic) to young women . . . Low sugar levels are also an attraction to young women in the 18 + age group’[21].

THE OUTCOME

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ALCOHOL EDUCATION AUSTRALIA LTD
  5. METHOD
  6. THE MOO JOOSE CASE
  7. THE OUTCOME
  8. WHAT TO MAKE OF THE CASE
  9. Acknowledgement
  10. Declaration of interest
  11. References

Liquor Licensing Victoria rejected Moo Joose because it saw alcoholic milk as a corruption of a product known to be healthy and one that might easily be taken up by children [22]. (For a fuller description of the case against Moo Joose, see Munro & Learmonth [30].)

The verdict of VCAT, the independent arbiter, supported the licensing body. The tribunal confirmed LLV's decision to deny a licence for Moo Joose and rejected the particular case advanced. An example was the marketing strategy. CEO Aldred explained that the manufacturer had accepted ADFQ's advice to revamp it: ‘As a result of our recommendations we were able to get the manufacturer to change the product packaging and the proposed marketing campaign so that it differentiated the product from dairy products for children’[23]. He said that was an example of the value of working with the industry [23]. VCAT found ‘the proposed marketing and promotion of the product to be irresponsible and would, in its view, attract the attention of underage drinkers’[24]. (For details of the marketing strategy, see Munro & Learmonth [30].)

WHAT TO MAKE OF THE CASE

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ALCOHOL EDUCATION AUSTRALIA LTD
  5. METHOD
  6. THE MOO JOOSE CASE
  7. THE OUTCOME
  8. WHAT TO MAKE OF THE CASE
  9. Acknowledgement
  10. Declaration of interest
  11. References

ADFQ's attempt to balance the interests of the alcohol industry and public health led it to adopt contradictory positions. Before VCAT gave its decision, CEO Aldred proclaimed victory: ‘Working with the industry to minimise harm is always going to yield more positive outcomes than an aggressive knee-jerk reaction’[23]. The ‘positive outcomes’ were the change of name, the amended packaging and the revised marketing strategy [23]. Yet, paradoxically, in the same self-published article, ADFQ stated: ‘The ADFQ stressed it is not its role to support this or any other business or product. The Foundation's approach is to comment on generic alcoholic dairy products of which Alcoholic Moo Joose is one example’[23]. The last is a strange assertion on all counts. The Moo Joose case was not about generic alcoholic dairy products; it was about the specific product Moo Joose.

In the tradition of liquorspeak, ADFQ derided critics of Moo Joose as hypocritical, ‘prohibitionist’, ‘hysterical’ and ‘alarmist’, once before the appeal verdict was delivered and again afterwards [13,23,31].

The story reveals the conflict and confusion ADFQ experienced when it made decisions by consensus in collaboration with an alcohol manufacturer. If it is the result of cooperation between an addiction organization and the liquor industry, the alarm should sound for those who urge such partnerships on the public health sector.

The collaboration between the Alcohol and Drug Foundation—Queensland and the drinks industry to set up the AEA illuminates the general nature of the problems which may result from a partnership between the addiction sector and the industry. The formal objectives of AEA, the product of the collaboration, subordinated public health interests to those of the alcohol industry. It fulfilled the prediction that the likely prevention activity would address ‘individual consumers’ rather than the population measures indicated by public health policy. The public health member of the partnership adopted the policy perspective of the industry in contrast to its previous independent stance.

To a field that is short on money, a partnership or alliance with the liquor industry can be tempting. However, if the experience of ADFQ is a guide, the effort of constructing the partnership may compromise the public health orientation of the agency that makes the attempt.

Acknowledgement

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ALCOHOL EDUCATION AUSTRALIA LTD
  5. METHOD
  6. THE MOO JOOSE CASE
  7. THE OUTCOME
  8. WHAT TO MAKE OF THE CASE
  9. Acknowledgement
  10. Declaration of interest
  11. References

Dr Cameron Duff of the Centre for Youth Drug Studies made thoughtful comments and suggestions on this manuscript in draft form.

Declaration of interest

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ALCOHOL EDUCATION AUSTRALIA LTD
  5. METHOD
  6. THE MOO JOOSE CASE
  7. THE OUTCOME
  8. WHAT TO MAKE OF THE CASE
  9. Acknowledgement
  10. Declaration of interest
  11. References

The author gave formal advice, on behalf of the Australian Drug Foundation (ADF), to Liquor Licensing Victoria prior to its refusal to grant a licence for Moo Joose. He appeared as a witness (unpaid) for LLV at the subsequent appeal. He is an employee of ADF and might therefore be seen as in competition with ADFQ for funding.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ALCOHOL EDUCATION AUSTRALIA LTD
  5. METHOD
  6. THE MOO JOOSE CASE
  7. THE OUTCOME
  8. WHAT TO MAKE OF THE CASE
  9. Acknowledgement
  10. Declaration of interest
  11. References
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