SWA claims legislation in breach of EU trade laws and could cost whisky industry £500m
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is to challenge minimum alcohol pricing legislation through the European Commission and the Court of Session.
Scottish government reforms on alcohol pricing, which won MSP backing earlier in the year, will set the minimum price per unit of alcohol at 50 pence.
The SWA has now lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission claiming the legislation is unlawful and in breach of EU trade rules.
The whisky industry trade body is also seeking a judicial review of the legislation with the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
It is being joined in its opposition of minimum alcohol pricing by other UK and European Union wine, beer and spirits organisations and companies.
The SWA said it is concerned other countries “are likely to adopt measures similar to MUP, with a “protection and health” justification which would target imported products, and such “copycat measures could cost the Scotch Whisky industry £500 million in exports”.
It also believes the Scottish Government's minimum pricing policy is “misguided” and argues the Scottish Government's own modelling illustrates minimum pricing will not reduce the number of “hazardous drinkers” and will instead force moderate drinkers to pay more.
It adds the Scottish Government's own figures show 73 per cent of alcohol sold in the "off trade" will have to go up in price.
Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: "We agree that Scotland must address the harmful use of alcohol, but policy needs to be targeted on the problem.
“Some 30 per cent of those who drink, consume 80 per cent of the alcohol sold.
“Despite warnings that minimum pricing of alcohol would be illegal, the Scottish government has pressed ahead with its ill-targeted policy and misguided legislation.
“The Scotch Whisky industry is left with no option but to oppose the legislation in Europe and through the Scottish Courts.
"We're far from alone in our objections. Others in the UK and Europe share our views and will also be raising objections with the European Commission.
"Scottish Ministers repeatedly claimed during the Parliamentary process that as a premium product Scotch Whisky would not be affected by minimum pricing.
“The truth is now out. The Scottish Government's own final impact assessment reveals 85 per cent of blended Scotch whisky will be increased in price as a result of an MUP of 50p.”
Health Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon argues the legislation is lawful, and has “the strong backing of doctors, nurses, the police and public health experts”.
She added: “It is a policy that also has growing support across the UK and internationally.
Therefore, while we acknowledge their right to do so, we regret the decision of the SWA to challenge minimum pricing in the courts.
"The Scottish government believes that minimum pricing will save lives and reduce the harm caused by alcohol misuse. It is a targeted policy and will not penalise those who drink responsibly."
Ms Sturgeon said a so-called 'sunset clause' included in the legislation will allow it to be tested in practice before parliament “takes a longer term decision based on actual experience”.
"We firmly believe that minimum pricing meets the legal tests required and we will vigorously defend this legal challenge, just as we did on asbestos and are doing on tobacco,” she said.
"Notwithstanding our difference of opinion on minimum pricing, we will continue to work constructively with the SWA in support of the whisky industry, which is both important and valuable for Scotland."