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Liquor Industry Tantrum Undermines Effective Regulation Of Pregnancy Warning Labels

Alcohol Healthwatch is extremely disappointed that an evidence-based pregnancy warning label for alcohol products and packaging has been sent back to the drawing board. A group comprising nine Australian Ministers and one New Zealand Minister voted 6-4 against proceeding with the effective label, developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

In their communiqué1 on their decision, the Ministerial Forum stated that they recognised the significant impacts of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in Australia and New Zealand, which can be prevented if women abstain from alcohol during pregnancy, but that the proposed label constituted an unreasonable cost burden on the alcohol industry.

Director of Alcohol Healthwatch Dr Nicki Jackson said, “This decision reeks of behind the scenes lobbying and whining by the liquor lobby. It all appears to be over the cost of red ink in the proposed warning. Talk about a red herring. This has more to do with stopping the warning from being easily seen, as research shows that this colour increases visibility and is deemed essential for effective warning labels.”

The industry is also concerned with the use of the term ‘health warning’ in the proposed label. “The industry wants these words watered down. To even suggest this is a disservice to the individuals and families impacted by the lifelong harm caused by prenatal alcohol consumption. UMR polling this month shows that more than two-thirds of all New Zealanders (and 77% of all women) support health warning labels on products,” says Dr Jackson.

It is understood that the New Zealand Minister for Food Safety, Hon Damien O’Connor, voted in favour of the proposed label. However, New Zealand only casts one of the ten votes, and there is no public record of the voting to ensure transparency and accountability.

“The trans-Tasman decision making process creates a highly inequitable situation for New Zealanders, who overwhelming and consistently have called for an effective pregnancy warning label for alcohol products. We are grateful to our Minister but in essence, we have all been short-changed by a handful of Australian politicians who seem more interested in placating the liquor lobby than caring for the public that elected them,” says Dr Jackson.

1. https://foodregulation.gov.au/internet/fr/publishing.nsf/Content/forum-communique-2020-March1

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