Australia and New Zealand alcohol producers to develop warning labels on products

AUSTRALIA – Alcohol producers will be forced to label their products with warnings relating to the risks of drinking during pregnancy in an agreement reached by Australian and New Zealand ministers.

According to Food Business News, the labels will be developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand in consultation with the alcohol industry, and will include a pictogram and warning statement.

“It’s important to provide Australian women who are pregnant, or considering pregnancy, with clear and accurate advice about the risks of drinking during pregnancy, with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) being the most significant,” said Public Health Association of Australia CEO, Terry Slevin.

Dr Filippe Oliveira, an assistant lecturer in obstetrics and gynaecology at Monash University, said doctors did not know how much women could drink without putting their babies at risk.

“There are limitations in the available scientific evidence, which makes it difficult to have a safe or no-risk drinking level during pregnancy,” she said.

“However, some recent studies have started to show that the risks to the foetus from low-level drinking, such as one or two drinks per week, during pregnancy are likely to be low.

It is important to point out that most studies have investigated short outcomes such as fetal malformations at or soon after birth, but we need to also think about the long-term consequences.

So a conservative approach has been taken in recommending that not drinking alcohol is the safest option.”

The move to have mandatory labels had been “fully expected” by many in the alcohol industry, the Brewers Association of Australia CEO, Brett Heffernan, said.

“Our members – Carlton & United Breweries, Lion Beer Australia and Coopers Brewery – have been 100% compliant with the voluntarily labelling regime since 2014, applying the warning pictogram across every product they produce,” he said.

“We are perplexed as to why others in the industry failed to heed the writing on the wall since 2012.

The three major brewers got the job done, across hundreds of product labels, in just two years.

After six years of voluntary pregnancy labelling and two federal government surveys to measure uptake, the best the alcohol industry could muster was 75% compliance. Clearly, that’s nowhere near good enough.”

The decision was significant, the CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, Michael Thorn said, and that mandatory labels would save lives.

“This is a win for consumers and a critically important decision that will save lives and [help prevent] the pain that is caused as a result of what is a preventable but lifelong disability,” he said.

Thorn said it was unclear when the labels would take effect, with work to be done on developing the labels and examining business impact. But he hoped they would be in place within 12 months.

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