Anything to do with the manufacture or consumption of alcoholic beverages in Pakistan is potentially contentious. It is illegal for Muslims to consume alcohol, but there are three functioning breweries in the country. This is limited to beers and spirits. Outside of these legal, and profitable, sources there is a vast nationwide industry devoted to the illegal manufacture of alcoholic drinks, many of which are toxic and hundreds die every year as a result of their consumption. Legal production is already covered by a range of regulations, to which it is proposed by the Punjab Food Authority (PFA) that another layer be added concerned with the quality of such products and how safe their consumption is. The PFA has included alcoholic beverages in draft legislation to be presented to the board of directors on 13th February. The regulation of production will remain with the Excise and Taxation Department.
The PFA is at pains to point out that this proposal in no way promotes alcoholic consumption, merely adds to the safety and security of those that legally consume alcohol. Given that the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages are already subject to stringent controls across their manufacturing and marketing operations it is difficult to see — beyond a tidying up of existing regulations — what the benefits are to the ordinary drinker. There is a body of anecdotal evidence that alcohol use and abuse is on the rise, and treatment facilities for those addicted to alcohol have quietly been established. Legal outlets for the sale of alcohol are also long in business and they, unlike the products they sell, are indifferently regulated. The problem that Pakistan has is not the quality of legally produced alcohol which is generally satisfactory, but the irresponsible — and illegal — consumption of it. Any regulation that protects or enhances public safety is to be welcomed, but the PFA proposal does nothing to address a serious and underlying problem which is evident if rarely openly discussed across the country. Addressing that difficulty is a mountain yet to be climbed.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2017.
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