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Q&A: “The Beer Industry Is a Leader in Self-Regulation”

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IPS interviews CARLOS BRITO, CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev

MONTEVIDEO, Sep 27 2010 (IPS) - Some two billion people around the world drink alcohol, a practice that has been around since time immemorial. Responsible drinking is only part of the picture; the WHO reports that the harmful use of alcohol affects tens of millions of people and kills two and a half million people every year, from causes ranging from illnesses to traffic accidents.

Carlos Brito Credit: Courtesy AB InBev

Carlos Brito Credit: Courtesy AB InBev

Industry self-regulation was one of the components of a global alcohol strategy launched by the WHO (World Health Organisation) in May aimed at reducing alcohol abuse. IPS asked Carlos Brito, CEO of the world’s largest beer maker, why his company invests in campaigns that promote responsible drinking.

Brito said Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) has “a long history of launching responsible drinking campaigns,” but on Sept. 15 it celebrated for the first time its “Global Be(er) Responsible Day” around the world.

Brito took part in China. “Over 3000 of our employees distributed 100,000 leaflets and 10,000 car and cooler stickers with information promoting responsible drinking,” he said in an email interview with IPS.

Q: Companies are fighting for market share and profits, which means trying to maximise sales. So why engage in efforts to promote responsible drinking, which could be expected to reduce sales? A: As the world’s leading global brewer, we take our role in encouraging the responsible enjoyment of our products very seriously. Promoting responsible enjoyment does not run counter to achieving our business goals.

In fact, sustainable long-term growth through responsible business practices is at the core of our dream to be the “best beer company in a better world”. For this reason, sales involving the misuse or abuse of our products are ones that we would gladly do without.

Q: For some years already, your company has organised campaigns on responsible drinking. Which ones do you personally like the most? A: We are especially pleased with the success of our designated driver campaigns around the world, including running the first-ever designated driver TV ad in China this year.

We have also seen success with educational campaigns that encourage parents to talk with their children to help prevent underage drinking. One such programme is “Family Talk About Drinking”, which was first launched in the U.S. and has now been translated into seven different languages.

Since 2002, underage drinking among adolescents has declined 17 percent in the U.S. The combination of Anheuser-Busch and InBev has given us greater resources than ever to dedicate to expanding the reach of our programmes, and our focus now is on sharing successful campaigns among our key markets.

Q: Young people are a high-risk group when it comes to risky drink patterns. Which specific measures can be taken towards this group? A: Independent and government research has shown that when it comes to preventing underage drinking, parents are powerful influencers. Educational programmes, such as our “Family Talk About Drinking” and “Vivamos Responsablemente” (“Let’s Live Responsibly”) in Argentina, have been particularly successful.

For young people of legal drinking age, we implement programmes that promote responsible drinking and the use of designated drivers. One of our most impactful campaigns, “Check Who Is Driving” in Germany, reached more than 67,000 young people by sending representatives to nightclubs to ask club-goers to pledge to use a designated driver.

Q: Does AB InBev support the WHO’s strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol? And how does it plan to contribute to its implementation? A: It is an important and constructive step forward in helping address alcohol issues around the world. The strategy acknowledges the significance of different national, religious and cultural contexts for alcohol and proposes a menu of options that member states may tailor to their cultures in order to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.

It also recognises the need for the involvement of all stakeholders, including the industry, and the importance of self-regulation in helping address alcohol abuse.

We plan to work constructively with the WHO and member states, by supporting and contributing to feasible and effective policies.

Q: Do we need more efforts at the international level to promote responsible drinking and to reduce harmful use of alcohol? How would these need to look? A: While we have seen significant declines in underage drinking and drunk driving, there is always more progress to be made.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to alcohol abuse. The WHO recognized this in the alcohol strategy when it acknowledged the cultural differences between countries. To have the greatest impact, initiatives at the country level must be targeted, proven interventions that impact those who abuse alcohol versus broadly targeting responsible drinkers.

Q: Do you think the WHO strategy will develop further restrictions and a more binding framework like the one imposed on the use of tobacco? A: It is important to keep in mind that alcohol is not tobacco. Used as intended, cigarettes are harmful. You cannot say the same about beer. When consumed responsibly, beer can be part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle for most adults.

In addition, both the medical profession and governments’ health guidelines around the world recognise that drinking moderately may provide certain health benefits for some adults.

The beer industry is a leader in self-regulation. We not only abide by all applicable government regulations, we rigorously enforce our own guidelines when it comes to the manufacturing, marketing and distribution of our beers.

Q: Most of the increase in consumption over the last decades has occurred in developing countries. The WHO notes “a discrepancy between the increasing availability and affordability of alcohol beverages in many low- and middle-income countries and those countries’ capability and capacity to meet the possible additional public health burden that follows.” Do developing countries need special attention? A: Research has shown that the most effective way to address alcohol abuse is through targeted, proven interventions rather than broad, population-based measures, no matter the economic situation of a country.

That said, there is an opportunity that we fully support to increase education and awareness programmes in developing countries as overall consumption in those countries increases. * This interview is part of a series of columns and Q&As about corporate social responsibility, supported by AB InBev.

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