Mandatory pregnancy warning labels on alcohol a win for health of women and unborn children

Friday 12 October, 2018

The Alcohol Policy Coalition (APC) has welcomed a landmark move by the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation yesterday to vote in favour of requiring all alcohol bottles and cans to carry government-developed pregnancy warning labels.

Sarah Jackson, spokesperson for the APC, said women have the right to know how alcohol can harm them and their unborn child.

“Drinking alcoholic beverages during pregnancy can cause life-long and irreversible health harms to the drinker and her baby, including miscarriage, still birth, low birth weights and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD),” Ms Jackson said.

“But alcohol corporations have been keeping pregnant women in Australia in the dark about these dangers, by resisting the use of clear warning labels on all products to inform pregnant women.”

The alcohol industry has been given seven years to voluntarily introduce pregnancy warning labels, but two Parliamentary inquiries identified that this voluntary approach has failed.

Pregnancy warning labels currently appear on less than half of alcohol products, and are small, unclear and hard to find.

“The APC supports clear and prominent pregnancy warning labels developed by government on all packaged alcoholic products. This is needed to provide clear information to pregnant women on the harms of drinking to their unborn babies, and as an essential part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent alcohol consumption by pregnant women,” Ms Jackson said.

“We congratulate the Forum ministers who supported this crucial measure to inform pregnant women for prioritising efforts to prevent alcohol-fuelled damage to women’s and children’s health.”

We look forward to Food Standards Australia New Zealand moving quickly to design and implement effective pregnancy warning labels.

BACKGROUND

The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation consists of lead ministers from health and other relevant portfolios from Australian state, territory and Commonwealth governments, and the New Zealand government.

The Forum develops policy guidelines that Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) must follow when developing food standards, including standards on food and beverage labelling.

The Forum yesterday released a communique announcing its decision that a mandatory pregnancy warning label for packaged alcoholic products should be developed and should include a pictogram and warning label.  

The Forum has requested Food Standards Australia New Zealand to develop a mandatory standard requiring pregnancy warning labels on all packaged alcoholic products as a priority, and to commence this work expeditiously.

Requiring pregnancy warning labels on alcohol was first recommended in 2011 by the Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy.

Over the past seven years, the alcohol industry has been given a two-year trial period and a further two year extension to voluntarily implement pregnancy warning labels.

Two parliamentary inquiries have found that voluntary implementation by the alcohol industry is inadequate.[i]

Under the voluntary scheme less than half (48 per cent) of all packaged alcoholic beverages available for sale display some type of pregnancy warning label, with lower coverage for some product types.[ii]

ENDS

The Alcohol Policy Coalition is a collaboration of health and allied agencies who share a concern about the level of alcohol misuse and the associated health and social consequences for the community. The Alcohol Policy Coalition develops and promotes evidence-based policy responses that are known to be effective in preventing and reducing alcohol related problems.

The members of the Alcohol Policy Coalition are:  

  • Australasian College of Emergency Medicine (ACEM)
  • Alcohol and Drug Foundation
  • Cancer Council Victoria
  • Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, La Trobe University
  • Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education
  • Jewish Community Council of Victoria
  • Public Health Association of Australia
  • Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
  • St Vincent’s Health Australia
  • The Salvation Army
  • Turning Point
  • Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association
  • Violence Prevention Group, School of Psychology, Deakin University
  • Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.  

[i] House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs Inquiry into FASD; West Australian Legislative Assembly Education and Health Standing Committee Inquiry into Improving Educational Outcomes for West Australians of all ages.

[ii] Food Regulation Standing Committee (May 2018). Policy options targeted consultation paper: Pregnancy warning labels on package alcohol beverages. p19.