Last month, it was announced that Belgium based Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) and London based SABMiller have agreed to merge for around $106 billion, the third largest deal in corporate history. The new company will produce an estimated one third of all beer sold worldwide.
Professor Jeff Collin, a political scientist, and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh claim in BMJ that this merger "represents a major threat to global health, to which researchers, funders and regulators must respond more effectively" - somehow one larger, less efficient company would have greater health implications for alcohol-related harm across low and middle income countries, they say. Yet declining mass beer sales are why they are merging. The scholars contend Africa will be a huge new market. 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 add.
Invoking Big Tobacco is the epidemiological equivalent of Godwin's Law - when someone has no case, they say it's the same strategy as cigarette companies used 60 years ago.
The authors contend that cigarette companies are downright ethical by comparison and that beer "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, WHO's emerging framework for engagement with non-state actors, "precludes partnership with the tobacco and arms industries but makes no specific reference to alcohol."
Political science to the rescue.