Diageo is sourcing enough antiviral medicine Tamiflu for all of its employees worldwide, as it and other drinks firms ready pandemic flu strategies in response to the H1N1 'swine flu' virus.

Diageo is making one treatment course of Tamiflu available to each of its 23,000 employees worldwide, should they fall ill, a group spokesperson confirmed to just-drinks today (19 August).

The drinks giant has a Pandemic Flu Management team working to a four-point action plan that was enacted on 11 June this year, due to growing concern among health officials over the spread of the H1N1 virus, dubbed "swine flu".

A Diageo spokesperson said: "We put together a Pandemic Flu Management team with dedicated project managers, sponsored at Executive level, to evaluate on a continual basis the risks that a pandemic would pose and to put effective plans in place to help us mitigate its impact."

The firm, which owns Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky and Guinness, added: "Our medical consultants have stated that our plans put us at the leading edge of organisations' preparedness planning for an event of pandemic flu."

World health officials have raised the H1N1 threat level to global pandemic status, following evidence of sustained human-to-human spread in at least two continents. The vast majority of cases have so far proved mild, but a more severe 'second wave' is expected later this year and, even for mild cases, absent employees may prove costly for businesses.

Diageo's four-point action plan covers 'business continuity', 'people policies', including care for employees' families and  'communication and education', including face-to-face briefings with employees and guidance leaflets in 22 languages.

Antiviral medicine supply is the fourth area of the plan and includes free or subsidised medication to employees' families, as well as workers. Access will be "subject to local laws and regulatory and practical constraints", Diageo said.

There has been debate in countries worst hit by the H1N1 outbreak about whether private stockpiling of antivirals is worthwhile.

Netherlands-based Heineken told just-drinks today that it has purchased Tamiflu stocks "for potential distribution to employees in those countries where it is not or not easily available through the public system".

A spokesperson for the brewer added that Tamiflu will be given to employees suspected or diagnosed as having swine flu if they have a severe case, have underlying health problems, such as heart or lung disease, are pregnant or are "persons deemed in essential positions".  
Other multinational drinks firms have decided not to stockpile at this stage.

SABMiller told just-drinks today: "A decision has been taken by the business not to buy Tamiflu for staff at this stage and this will be reassessed at regular intervals. Monitoring the spread and severity of swine flu is an ongoing process for SABMiller."

In Denmark, rival brewer Carlsberg also told just-drinks that it has not bought stocks of Tamiflu.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer, declined to comment on whether it has bought Tamiflu stocks, but said: "A-B InBev has the necessary plans allowing our company to prepare as best as can for unexpected and exceptional situations in the different parts of our business."

The brewer said it is "monitoring on a regular basis the situation in all our operational zones" and is "updating internal preventive plans accordingly".

In the US, Fortune Brands, owner of Beam Global Spirits & Wine, declined to comment on specific plans for H1N1. "We have business continuity plans across our organisation, but as a matter of company policy we don't discuss details," said a spokesperson.

A spokesperson for The Coca-Cola Co told just-drinks: "We are not stockpiling here in our global headquarters in Atlanta."

She added: "Our corporate facility here in Atlanta expects to serve as a private point of distribution for the novel H1N1 vaccine to employees and family members in conjunction with the US Strategic National Stockpile programme within the Fulton County (one of several counties that comprise the city of Atlanta) department of Health and Wellness."