The government insists it is determined to step up efforts to clamp down on duty fraud and support responsible retailers disadvantaged by criminal gangs.

The trade has until June 25 to comment on a series of measures announced in last month’s Budget being considered as part of a consultation on the problem. 

The plans include introducing strip stamps on beer, new regulations to make brewers responsible for safeguarding supplies, and a register of legitimate wholesalers. 

The government is also canvassing opinions on the extent of wine fraud, which it says is difficult to quantify because of the large number of importing countries and supply routes. 

Once it has established the extent of the problem, it said it would consider appropriate anti-fraud measures. 

In an exclusive interview with OLN, economic secretary Chloe Smith said: “The real drive is to tackle availability of cheap alcohol which puts many retailers at a disadvantage. Fraud also accounts for £1.2 billion losses to revenue, which deprives the country of vital services. It means looking at fiscal marks for beer and supply chain legislation which puts more responsibility on brewers to carry out diligent checks.”

However, Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, criticised the measures as disproportionate. She said: “Tax stamps or fiscal marks for every can and bottle of beer are a completely disproportionate response. The industry is committed to tackling duty fraud but we don’t believe the problem is anywhere near the scale suggested by HM Revenue & Customs.

“This would be hugely costly to brewers and is totally at odds with the government’s objectives of reducing regulatory burdens on business. Stamping 5.5 billion bottles and cans of British beer each year, with no such controls on bottles of wine, would also be hugely unfair.” 

But Smith insisted government had already widely consulted with the industry on the proposals outlined in the consultation. 

She said: “We have worked with members of the trade to get to this point to make sure we take everyone’s view into account. One of the points of the consultation is to understand the costs that could be implied by the measures. The point is to tip it back in favour of legitimate businesses. Spirits fraud has fallen by £200 million since they were introduced, so there is a logic being applied.”