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Controversial call for watered-down drinks

Health minister Anne Milton has called for alcoholic drinks in the UK to be watered down as part of government efforts to tackle binge drinking.

The controversial proposals will put her at odds with the industry and would cause legal difficulties when it comes to the classification of certain drinks.

Under European Union rules, for example, any European vodka must be a minimum 37.5% abv. The same law applies to any drink calling itself “gin”.

Elsewhere, both the Scotch Whisky Act of 1988 and EU legislation specify a minimum bottling strength of 40% abv for Scotch whisky.

Milton, however, said the coalition government was determind to see a “significant” reduction in the number of units in beer, wines and spirits across the board.

Ministers are now hoping for a voluntary agreement from the drinks industry to water down their products.

Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate, Milton told MPs that the government wanted to “remove a significant number of units of alcohol from the UK market through changes in how alcohol is produced and sold”.

She added: “Quality above quantity is something we’re aiming to do. We can’t turn this problem around overnight but we’re deadly serious about a deadly problem.”

Milton clearly has not recognised the efforts of many major drinks companies to reduce their alcoholic content. Brewer AB InBev has already agreed to make small reductions in the alcohol content of its products, with major brands such as Budweiser, Becks and Stella Artois seeing their abv cut from 5% to 4.8% last month.

Diageo has also announced the UK-wide roll-out of Guinness Mid-Strength, with an abv of just 2.8%.

Likewise major wine brands such as First Cape and Banrock Station have similarly released low-alcohol wines to help drinkers cut down on their alcohol intake.

Department of Health sources have also confirmed that one of the ideas under consideration is the introduction of higher taxation for stronger alcoholic drinks, while Prime Minister David Cameron is still firmly behind the idea of introducing a minimum pricing scheme which would stop the sale of alcohol at below 40p to 50p a unit in shops and supermarkets.

However, as has been noted on many occasions, such a scheme would more than likely be illegal under EU rules.


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