SAB may dump 130-million litres of beer as lockdown 'mimics prohibition in US'

07 May 2020 - 14:42 By TimesLIVE
SAB said the lockdown was a reminder of 'costly lessons learnt by the US almost a century ago' during the Prohibition.
SAB said the lockdown was a reminder of 'costly lessons learnt by the US almost a century ago' during the Prohibition.
Image: 123RF/Vladislavs Gorniks

South African Breweries has likened provisions of the lockdown to the Prohibition in the US in the 1920s and 30s that saw criminals cash in on illicit trade and consumers exposed to hazardous brews.

The company also warned that it may have to dump 130-million litres of beer – about 400-million bottles worth - at its brewing facilities, which have run out of space to legally store alcohol.

Under the lockdown rules, the transportation of alcohol is banned, preventing the company from taking the product to depots and warehouses for storage.

“SAB is not legally allowed to store brewed beer once it reaches a certain capacity. Once breweries reach permissible limits, the alcohol needs to be stored at offsite SAB-owned facilities. As the movement of alcohol is not permitted the beer would in this unique instance need to be destroyed,” the company told eNCA on Thursday.

Having to dump the beer would be a lengthy process and prevent the company from operating at full capacity for at least four months, SAB told the broadcaster.

Likening the alcohol ban to the Prohibition between 1919 and 1933, SAB said in a statement that while it was initially intended to help protect communities, unintended consequences were now emerging.

“Banning alcohol sales doesn't suddenly remove demand. Banning alcohol simply hands the market to criminals,” said SAB.

“SA already has a fully functional illegal alcohol market. This illicit liquor trades more than R13bn a year and results in annual tax losses in excess of R6bn.

“As has been widely reported, the ban has offered criminals an unparalleled opportunity to grow their illicit activities which will undoubtedly result in growing losses to both government and the legal alcohol sector.”

Ordinary law-abiding citizens were changing how they consumed alcohol and purchasing potentially unsafe, illicit alcohol which could endanger their health.

“If not addressed soon, the alarming rise in illicit trade, health emergencies and criminal incidents involving alcohol will become a crisis in its own right in South Africa.”

The SA Liquor Brand Owners’ Association (Salba) said this week that SA remained one of the few countries in the world prohibiting sales of alcoholic beverages during lockdown, as other countries abandoned the initial prohibition approach.

President Cyril Ramaphosa previously denied a request from the Gauteng Liquor Forum to ease the restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

A man from Cape Town attempted to beat the #SALockdown ban on alcohol sales by sending a drone to his friend to collect a beer. Morgan O'Kennedy used a rope with an attachment to send to his friend to collect the beer can.

He said a decision was taken to uphold the restrictions because of the “dangers associated” with the sale of alcohol, reported TimesLIVE earlier.

Also, he said in a letter sent through the state attorney, that the sale of alcohol was “not an essential service” and that selling it would hurt the country's battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

“The sale of alcohol is self-evidently not an essential service. On this basis alone, it was considered that the sale of alcohol should not be permitted. The sale and consumption of alcohol also has proven links to an increase in violent crime, motor vehicle accidents, medical emergencies and results in full emergency rooms and hospitals,” read the letter.

“In the face of a pandemic such as Covid-19, the experience of the rest of the world has shown us that hospitals need to be prepared to receive and treat vast numbers of Covid-19 patients and to quarantine them from non-infected patients.

“Prohibiting the sale of alcohol is also aimed at ensuring compliance with the lockdown regulations, social distancing protocols and proper hygiene practices by reducing or eliminating the number of intoxicated persons, in light of experience of non-compliance by intoxicated persons in general.”