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Nurses Organisation urges vote for alcohol health warnings

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) is urging ministerial delegates to the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation to vote in favour of mandatory, government-developed health warning labels on all alcohol products.

As a "key stakeholder with an interest in women’s health," the organisation has signed an open letter to the Forum asking that Food Standards Australia New Zealand be tasked with developing an effective, consumer-tested labelling standard.

The Forum meets on 11 October and NZNO expects some ministerial delegates will toe the alcohol industry line that current voluntary labelling is sufficient, or that mandatory labelling will impinge on alcohol companies’ intellectual property rights.

NZNO Professional Nursing Adviser Kate Weston said women have a right to know if a product could cause harm to themselves or their baby, but that not all women who are pregnant, or who might become pregnant, were aware of those potential harms.

"Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is associated with a range of adverse consequences including miscarriage, preterm birth and stillbirth. Meanwhile hazardous drinking rates for women are rising.

"The Ministry of Health estimates that one in 100 babies is born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and that’s caused by exposure to alcohol in the womb. We think it’s ridiculous to argue that warnings are unnecessary or that the tiny warnings currently on the back of less than half of all alcohol products are sufficient."

She said FASD significantly hinders development in childhood and that the effects are lifelong and have no cure.

"How can we sincerely suggest that the intellectual property rights of the alcohol industry are more important than the intellectual wellbeing of one in 100 of our children?

"FASD and these other health problems also affect families and whānau for life. They put a further strain on our health system, and that includes our nurses. Neonatal units are experiencing ever increasing capacity challenges due to babies being born having been exposed to alcohol in the womb, and a raft of problems flow on from that - including cots not being available for other babies."

Ms Weston said leaving warnings up to the alcohol industry was clearly not working.

"We have mandatory, government-supervised warnings on lots of dangerous substances, including tobacco. Alcohol should be no different, so NZNO is calling on ministers at the Forum to put the health of their populations above commercial interests and vote for a compulsory labelling system that will actually work."


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