The alcohol industry has "no role" to play in formulating alcohol policies designed to tackle alcohol-related harm, according to the director-general of the World Health Organization.

The claim was made by Dr Margaret Chan in a letter to the British Medical Journal (BMJ) last week. The creation of alcohol policies must be "protected from distortion by commercial or vested interests", said Dr Chan, who also gave explicit support to the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA), a consortium of health NGOs and academics that has voiced its opposition to industry engagement on the issue.

Industry trade body The Global Alcohol Producers Group (GAPG) expressed surprise at Dr Chan's latest position. “It is disappointing that Dr Chan has reacted negatively … to the commitments of leading beer, wine and spirits producers (launched in October), which are a sincere contribution to efforts to reduce harmful use of alcohol,” the organisation said.

The commitments, which were pledged by 13 global drinks producers, were developed as a contribution to the WHO's 'Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol', which includes specific reference to industry engagement on the issue, GAPG said. The WHO "and Dr Chan personally" had encouraged industry to do more in this area, it added.

“We agree that the development of national alcohol policies is the primary responsibility of national authorities,” GAPG continued. “It is also our experience that many governments do not agree with WHO's view that industry has no role in policy formulation, as industry is often invited by governments to contribute its views and expertise to the policy development process.

“Groups such as GAPA, who seek to exclude those with views different from their own do a disservice to the very serious work of addressing harmful drinking worldwide and we encourage them to adopt a more inclusive approach," the statement concluded.