Industry experts have warned the government against pursuing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ code of practice for the drinks sector. 

It follows a consultation published this week by the Department of Health, and also independent reviews that revealed the drinks industry was failing to meet voluntary standards. 

Under plans outlined in the DoH’s Safe, Sensible, Social – Consultation on Further Action, mandatory regulation and tobacco-style health warnings could be introduced. Manufacturers would have until the end of the year to put advice on bottles and cans. If not, the government would enforce a mandatory scheme requiring health and unit information on all drinks and containers. 

In addition, off-licence alcohol displays at the checkout could be banned and point-of-sale information on alcohol units could be made compulsory. 

Public health minister Dawn Primarolo said the drinks industry had a “vital role to play” in changing the country’s attitude to alcohol, the misuse of which costs society £17.7bn to £25.1bn per year. “The consultation will decide whether legally binding regulations for retailers and manufacturers to promote sensible drinking are the way forward,” she said. 

However, James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, criticised the proposals. “We will caution against government pursuing a national, one-size-fits-all code of practice,” he said. “It would create duplicate regulatory structure and threaten to confuse operations for retailers.” 

This view was shared by Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. “Let’s tackle the real reasons why some people misuse alcohol – not make the rest of us pay the price,” he said.

Andrew Opie, British Retail Consortium food director added: “Further regulation and controls will increase inconvenience and cost to millions of customers who drink responsibly.”