AB InBev withdraws funding for alcohol study as industry’s influence is questioned

The world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) said it is withdrawing its financial support for a controversial study that will look into whether there are any health benefits to drinking alcohol in moderation.

The ten-year long clinical study which was announced last year had the financial support of the alcohol global heavyweights such as Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Heineken, Carlsberg and AB InBev.

According to the New York Times, the total amount so far raised by the drinks companies for the study is $66 million, of which AB InBev gave $15.4 million.

Enrolment in the study, which was being run by the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) and overseen by the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, was halted last month following an expose in the New York times, which reported that NIH officials and scientists solicited funds from alcohol groups by “strongly suggesting that the study results would endorse moderate drinking as healthy”.

The NIH is currently investigating whether its employees broke any U.S. laws.

In an open letter to the NIH President and Executive Director of the Foundation, Andres Penate, Global Vice President for Regulatory and Public Policy at AB InBev, said that the organization was withdrawing funding for the study as it believed it “could undermine its lasting credibility”.

Penate added: “We are committed to promoting the responsible consumption of our products.

“We agreed to the request to fund the 10-year MACH15 randomised controlled trial (RCT) because we believed it would yield valuable, science-based insights into the health effects of moderate drinking. We also believe in the strength of public-private partnerships to effectively address critical societal issues.

“We had no role in the design or execution of this research; stringent firewalls were put in place with the Foundation for National Institutes of Health to safeguard the objectivity and independence of the science.

“Unfortunately, recent questions raised around the study could undermine its lasting credibility, which is why we have decided to end our funding”.

According to the New York Times, AB InBev was paying the NIH 10 annual installments, of which it began paying three years ago. The open letter did not reveal how much the brewer has paid to date.

As part of the study, 7,800 participants aged 50 and above across the world and who are at high risk of heart disease would be monitored for an average of six years. Half of the groups are asked to abstain from alcohol while the other half has a single serving of alcohol every day.

A single serving is defined as 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

When the study was initially announced, the director of the Alcohol Institute, George F. Koob assured the New York Times that the study was free of influence from the alcohol industry, calling it an unbiased test of whether alcohol “in moderation” protects against heart disease.

“This study could completely backfire on the alcoholic beverage industry, and they’re going to have to live with it,” he said. “The money from the Foundation for the NIH has no strings attached. Whoever donates to that fund has no leverage whatsoever – no contribution to the study, no input to the study, no say whatsoever.”

However, many have questioned a study funded by the drinks industry and wonder if it can ever be conducted without their undue influence.

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