Drinks industry leaders have rejected claims by a powerful group of MPs that the UK needs a minimum price on alcohol and that drinks makers have too much influence on Government policy.

A base price of GBP0.50 (US$0.80) per alcoholic unit could save 3,000 lives per year, the House of Commons Health Select Committee said today (8 January).

Also calling for stringent restrictions on alcohol advertising, the Committee said that the drinks industry is "dependent" on harmful drinking for three quarters of its sales. Drinks sales would fall by 40% if people drank within the recommended daily limits, it claimed.

MPs also warned that drinks firms and supermarkets hold more power over the Government than health experts.

Their largely damning report, while not legally binding, is set to put alcohol in the spotlight in the build-up to a General Election in the UK, widely expected to be held in May.

Drinks industry trade bodies today (8 January) rejected calls for a minimum price, as well as the majority of the report's rhetoric.

"The truth is that a minimum price of GBP0.5 or tax rises would force prices up for responsible consumers, while proposed advertising restrictions amount to an effective ban that would put jobs at risk in the media and advertising industries," said the chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, Jeremy Beadles.

"Government statistics show that 7% of the population drink 33% of the alcohol in the UK. On that basis we should be focusing our efforts on tackling problem drinkers rather than punishing the many," he said.

Among other recommendations from the Committee are a raft of advertising and promotion restrictions, including limits on television advertising and sponsorship, tougher rules to protect young people and a new, independently adjudicated code of practice.

Committee MPs spent most of 2009 gathering submissions from interested parties, including industry.

The Scotch Whisky Association said today: "It is disappointing but unsurprising that the Committee has simply re-hashed restrictive blanket policies that fail to target problem drinkers."

It added: "The Health Committee is right to call for more efforts to tackle alcohol related harm. However, it would have been far better for the Committee to examine what effective measures to tackle alcohol harm could be brought forward in partnership between government, retailers, and producers."

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