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An amendment to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code was adopted, requiring a pregnancy warning label on all alcohol sold in Australia and New Zealand. Despite the alcohol sector claiming that they are supportive of measures to reduce the harm caused by alcohol, they are pushing back and calling on state and federal ministers to veto the plan.
Pregnancy warning labelling has been implemented since 2011 but as a voluntary scheme, called DrinkWise made by the alcohol industry, consisting of a small pictogram and a referral to their website. The new mandatory health warning label consists of a pictogram of a silhouette of a pregnant woman drinking with a red strike-through and the statement “alcohol can cause lifelong harm to your baby”. Alcohol bottles up to 200ml will only require the pictogram.
Alcohol interest groups and brands made almost 100 submissions to FSANZ arguing against the proposed warning label design. IBA chair Peter Philip said the industry will spend $400 million over the next ten years to redesign their products. Even though a study by PwC in 2008 commissioned by FSANZ itself found that there would be an average cost of between $4,000 to $12,000 for a label change.
The industry is supportive of the voluntary labelling arrangements and industry initiatives, but strongly oppose any regulation that is not conceived by them. While blaming it at costs, it seems that their true worries lie with what could come next, that this could establish a precedent for future labelling decisions.
Australia Grape and Wine, the representative body for Australian grape growing and winemaking business, even write on their website that this “sets an unwanted precedent for future labelling decisions, think cancer warning labels next, larger warning labels in the future”. This is sentiment is also repeated by IBA chairman Peter Philip that says, “the disappointing thing is that the size and the extreme nature of the health warning”.
The self-regulatory approach taken by the European Commission in the area of labelling is a cause for concern. The industry cannot be expected to lead the way on labelling when they oppose even well-established facts, as that it is harmful to drink while pregnant.
A final decision on the labelling will be made by the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation. It is time that science-based decision-making takes precedence over the interests of the alcohol industry.