The drinks industry in the UK is facing the possibility of the current voluntary industry retailing code for alcohol becoming mandatory.

The Department of Health has launched a consultation on the drinking culture in the country today (22 July), along with a report into the impact of price and promotions on harm from the University of Sheffield and a review of the industry's social responsibility standards from KPMG.

"The drinks industry is not adhering to its own voluntary standards," the DoH said.  "New evidence (is) suggesting that alcohol is a far wider cause of damage to people's health than previously suspected."

The consultation proposals would mean retailers would have to offer drinks in small as well as large glasses or measures; restrict happy hours or "irresponsible" price-based promotions; display alcohol in off-licence premises in separate areas - no more displays by the checkout; give point of sale information on units etc, allowing customers to make an informed choice, and train staff in shops and venues to recognise and refuse alcohol to
underage or drunk customers.

Drinks manufacturers will be given until the end of the year to put the required warnings and advice on bottles and cans. "If the alcohol industry does not abide, Government will move to put a mandatory scheme in place," the DoH warned. "This would require health and unit information on all drinks containers."

UK drinks industry organisation The Portman Group said it was "pleased that the responsible actions of drinks producers and the effectiveness of our work have been recognised by KPMG",but that it was considering the University of Sheffield report. "If Government chooses to introduce minimum pricing there should be full consultation on how price rises could impact on harmful drinking at the least cost to the rest of the population," said David Poley, the group's chief executive.

Jeremy Beadles, the chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association in the UK, said: "The Government's latest strategy document is simply pointing the way to higher prices for all responsible drinkers without solving the problem of alcohol misuse. Culture change will take time but we should start by enforcing the numerous laws we have and build on the education and information programmes acknowledged  as successful by Government.

"The drinks industry is demonstrating its commitment to change. Let's tackle the real reasons why some people misuse alcohol; not make the rest of us pay the price."