An industry-funded research institute is calling for better methods to evaluate mortality attributable to alcohol, after the publication of a study that claimed alcohol causes 49,000 premature deaths per year in France.

The Paris-based Institute for Scientific Research on Beverages (IREB) has proposed defining a clear methodology for calculating alcohol-related harm that can be shared by research teams and scientific institutions across the board. A more consensual methodology should enable policymakers, observers and the wider public to be provided with reliable data, it said.

IREB's proposal comes after the publication last month of a report in the European Journal of Public Health, which suggested that 49,000 people die of alcohol-related diseases in France per year. Some 36,500 French men die each year from alcohol-related illnesses, making for around 13% of the overall male mortality rate, according to the report, which was based on data from 2009.

But, IREB has questioned those figures and points to a similar study published by the Centre for Epidemiology on Medical Causes of Death (CépiDC, INSERM) in 2010. This latter report led to an estimate that was half that number, or 20,255 deaths attributable to alcohol. The report was based on 2006 data.

"An increase in deaths of more than 100% in three years, while total alcohol consumption has been steadily decreasing, highlights the problem of evaluation methods of mortality attributable to alcohol in France today," IREB said in a statement.

The figures published in the European Journal of Public Health also came as a surprise to other industry bodies. Carole Brigaudeau, director of communications at SpiritsEurope, an industry organisation representing producers at the EU level, questioned the quality of the study.

Although she acknowledged harm caused by chronic alcohol-related abuse, she said that the industry had estimated the number of alcohol-related deaths in France at 28,000 per year, based on previously published papers.

"We need more time to study this single article and compare it with the finding of various meta-analysis of more than 30 individual articles," Brigaudeau told EurActiv.

She said alcohol misuse "should be addressed with targeted interventions involving all the relevant stakeholders aiming at those with risky drinking behaviours. The industry has for many years been committed to help reducing alcohol-related harm," Brigaudeau said.

SpiritsEurope supports a commonly agreed methodology to assess alcohol-related harm, said Brigadeau, and insisted this work should be lead by the scientific community. IREB has its own scientific committee, whose research it claims is entirely independent and draws on voluntary work done by "high-level scientific personalities".

The European Commission is set to publish a review of its informal alcohol strategy later in the Spring.

This article initially appeared on the Euractiv website.