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07/09/2011

Our shared responsibility- protecting the unborn baby from alcohol

Today, MEPs together with Mr John Dalli, the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, discussed different ways to protect unborn babies from the negative effects of alcohol at the EU level.

Mr Adam Fronczak, the Under Secretary in the Ministry of Health in Poland, opened the meeting by highlighting that: ‘There is no doubt that drinking alcohol during pregnancy causes health related harm to unborn babies. It has to be noted that even a small amount of alcohol can have detrimental effects to foetus.’

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may cause physical, behavioural and learning disabilities with lifelong implications (i.e. reductions in general intellectual functioning). The umbrella term, Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), describes the whole array of consequences that can occur due to drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Individuals born with FASD are more likely to fail in the education system, as well as being more likely to come into difficulties with the criminal justice system. Exposure to alcohol in the womb is one of the leading causes of birth defects and is 100% preventable.

The Polish MEP, Ms Elzbieta Lukaciejewska, who hosted the event, said: ‘We all have the right to make informed decisions and know about the negative consequences of drinking while pregnant. It is also our shared responsibility as politicians, health professionals, private businesses and mostly parents to protect the unborn babies’. Unfortunately, many women are not aware that even low levels of alcohol exposure during pregnancy interfere with normal development. Case studies across Europe show there are a substantial number of women who continue to drink during pregnancy, ranging from 25% in Spain to between 35%-50% in the Netherlands, with even higher rates in the UK and Ireland (79%).

Mariann Skar, Secretary General of Eurocare, said: “We call upon the European Commission and Member States for more effective prevention. We cannot rely on voluntary actions. In order to promote long-term, sustainable commitments Member States and the European Commission need clear goals and a long term strategy. However, two things can be quickly achieved on alcohol and pregnancy: 1) systematic data gathering over how many children are born in the EU with FASD. 2) Legislation on health warning labels.”

Health warning labels about the dangers of drinking while pregnant are supported by the overwhelming majority of the Europeans (79% according to latest Eurobarometer survey), with support in some countries as high as 93% (Poland, Cyprus and Romania). At the moment only France requires alcoholic beverage containers to carry a warning about the risks of drinking during pregnancy.

Presentations from 'Protecting the unborn baby from alcohol', policy debate

Pictures from the policy debate