The world’s two largest beer manufacturers have agreed in principle to merge, and the move may have a huge impact on the world’s health.

According to global health experts, the merge “represents a major threat to global health, to which researchers, funders and regulators must respond more effectively.”

It was announced last month that Belgian-based Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) and London-based SABMiller have agreed to merge at around $106 billion, making this the third largest deal in corporate history. Completion of the deal relies on the navigation of regulatory demands and competition policy through multiple jurisdictions. The new company will produce about one-third of all beer sold worldwide, explained Professor Jeff Collin and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh.

A Global Impact On Health

The part of the deal with potentially significant impacts for global health is that the merger is driven by prospects for expansion in developing countries. There is an emphasis on Africa in particular as “a critical driver of growth for the combined company.”

Experts say that the growth anticipated by the company would be based on exploiting Africa’s currently low per capita beer consumption and would target low income areas to drive up sales. This trajectory echoes the plans of transnational tobacco companies, which researchers say share considerable strategic similarities with the alcohol industry. Tobacco and alcohol have comparable health effects, but alcohol manages to slide by without the “pariah status” of tobacco.

There have been global efforts to control transnational tobacco companies, but the alcohol industry, according to the authors, “continues to occupy ambiguous space in which an indirect acknowledgement of serious health effects coexists with the prospect of partnerships and shared objectives.”

One example of this is the World Health Organization’s (WHO) “emerging framework for engagement with non-state actors…precludes partnership with the tobacco and arms industries but makes no specific reference to alcohol.”

The research team believes that an opportunity to respond to this threat lies with new sustainable development goals. They urge public health actors to “do more to ensure that conflict of interest with alcohol companies is recognized and addressed.”

Source: Collin J, Hill S, Smith K. Merging Alcohol Giants Threaten Global Health. The BMJ. 2015.