Merger of beer giants threatening global health: Experts

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The merger of the world’s two largest beer manufacturers represents a major threat to global health, warn health experts, adding that the funders and regulators must respond more effectively to this threat.

Last month, Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) and London-based SABMiller agreed in principle to merge.

“At around $106 billion, this is the third largest deal in corporate history and the new company will produce an estimated one-third of all beer sold worldwide,” explained professor Jeff Collin and colleagues from University of Edinburgh.

Importantly for global health, the merger is driven by prospects for expansion in developing countries, with a particular emphasis on Africa as “a critical driver of growth for the combined company,” the authors noted.

Of particular concern are the health implications for the growing epidemic of alcohol-related harm across low and middle-income countries.

The health implications are disturbing, the authors continued. Market growth on this scale is predicated on “exploiting Africa’s low per capita consumption of beer,” targeting low-income consumers to drive increased sales.

This expansive trajectory also “echoes that of transnational tobacco companies, with which the alcohol industry shares strategic similarities and has close corporate links as well as comparable health effects,” they added.

Yet whereas regulation underpins efforts to control transnational tobacco companies, the authors pointed out that the global alcohol industry “continues to occupy an ambiguous space in which an indirect acknowledgement of serious health effects coexists with the prospect of partnerships and shared objectives.”

For example, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) emerging framework for engagement with non-state actors, “precludes partnership with the tobacco and arms industries but makes no specific reference to alcohol.”

The authors believe the new sustainable development goals provide opportunities to respond to this threat, urging public health providers to “do more to ensure that conflict of interest with alcohol companies is recognised and addressed.”

The paper appeared in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal (BMJ).

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