The consumer group, which was founded by four men in 1971 as a reaction to the domination of the UK’s beer market by a handful of companies, has announced that it may move away from the promotion of real ale and instead focus on more pressing issues such as the decline of the pub and the targeting of moderate drinkers by Government health advisers.
Camra has today launched a nationwide consultation of its 177,000 members and intends to ask for their views on what its new "purpose and strategy" should be, through a series of surveys and 50 meetings around the UK over the summer. The "Revitalisation Project" will be led by one of its four original founders, Michael Hardman.
The group said the rise of craft beer and a general resurgence of interest in beer over the last few years had prompted the review. Depending on the results of the survey of members, Camra may decide to broaden its approach, becoming a consumer organisation for all pub goers regardless of what they like to drink.
Mr Hardman told The Independent that "times have changed remarkably" since he founded the organisation with Graham Lees, Jim Makin and Bill Mellor 45 years ago. Back then, there were 135 breweries in Britain, with just six companies producing around 80 per cent of the country’s beer – now there are 1,500 breweries producing 11,000 different brands.
"The vast majority of pubs in the British isles sell at least one real ale, and in some cases a dozen or more," he added. "The landscape has changed completely. All good organisations should look to the future and plan ahead, and we’re taking a year to do it in the most democratic way we can imagine – by inviting every single member to have his or her say."
Mr Hardman said no decisions on Camra's future would be made until the consultation was complete and that “nothing has been discounted” from consideration. However, he said the rate of pub closures around Britain was a serious concern, with the group’s latest research on the issue suggesting that 27 are closing every week.
He also suggested that the UK needed an organisation willing to "stand up against the health lobby", which he claimed were unfairly targeting moderate drinkers. In January the UK’s chief medical officers published new advice saying that men and women should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol a week – the equivalent of six pints of 4 per cent beer.
"There’s no scientific evidence for these ridiculous units," Mr Hardman said. "You can’t set rules for everybody, just as you can’t say that all shoes should be eight and a half, because some people have smaller feet and some have bigger feet. We expect this issue to be at the forefront of our members’ minds."
By Chris Green