The Government has been urged to drop plans to crack down on cheap high-strength alcohol as officials examine whether the Westcountry cider industry will be damaged.
Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw said so-called minimum pricing would be “devastating” for the industry that provides hundreds of jobs across the region.
In March, the Government announced that it planned to impose a floor price of 40p per unit in an effort to clamp down on cheap alcohol fuelling binge drinking.
It is estimated a cheap three-litre bottle of strong, supermarket-sold cider could double in price, potentially discouraging drinkers from “pre-loading” before going out to pubs. But makers of artisan cider fear they will be caught in the cross-fire.
In a written parliamentary question, Mr Bradshaw asked the Department for Environment whether any assessment had been made of the impact the policy would have on the industry and farmgate cider prices – and whether exemptions for high-quality cider would be considered.
In response, he was told officials are investigating “what impact minimum unit pricing will have on cider producers, along with all other sections of the alcoholic drinks industry”.
Mr Bradshaw said: “The impact of minimum pricing on the cider industry would be devastating and is strongly opposed by Westcountry cider makers. It would fall particularly hard on farm sales of real cider.
“There is no evidence to show minimum pricing will curb problem drinking, but it will hit the majority of responsible drinkers. The Government should drop this barmy plan now.”
Last month, Somerset brewer Julian Temperley resigned from the South West English Cider Makers Association after failing to broker an exemption from the proposed new law for small-scale producers.
Mr Temperley, a cider and apple brandy producer, orchardist and past chairman of the group, says he has been privately lobbying ministers to treat producers who sell at the farm gate differently.
He warned small cider makers would be “destroyed” and there would be “a knock-on to orchards, landscape and tourism”.
“A very large part of the West’s cider mystique and romance would be lost forever,” he said.
In its final Budget, Labour had to row back from plans to increase duty on all cider by 10% above inflation, despite wanting to end “favouritism” shown to the traditional Westcountry drink.
While the coalition has avoided similar moves, the industry has been hit by increases to all alcohol duty and the increase in VAT.