The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation yesterday passed a decision to mandate pregnancy warning labelling for all packaged alcohol products.
The Forum, which comprises all Australian and New Zealand Ministers responsible for food regulation, and the Australian Local Government Association, released a communiqué highlighting the dangers of drinking while pregnant.
“Government advice in Australia and New Zealand is that pregnant women do not consume any alcohol. If a baby is exposed to alcohol in the womb it can have irreversible impacts such as intellectual, behavioural and developmental disabilities,” the Forum noted.
“Pregnancy warning labels on packaged alcoholic beverages can raise awareness and prompt discussions about the risks of consuming alcohol during pregnancy and may also support the establishment of cultural norms in relation to pregnant women not drinking alcohol.
“The alcohol industry has applied pregnancy warning labels to packaged alcoholic beverages on a voluntary basis since late 2011.”
The decision has been backed by the Brewers Association.
Brett Heffernan, CEO of the Brewers Association Australia which represents the country’s largest brewers, said that while it’s disappointing that mandating pregnancy labelling is necessary, the decision was a “no-brainer” and the BA “fully expected” this outcome.
“Our members – Carlton & United Breweries, Lion Beer Australia and Coopers Brewery – have been 100 per cent compliant with the voluntarily labelling regime since 2014, applying the warning pictogram across every product they produce,” Heffernan explained.
“We are perplexed as to why others in the industry failed to heed the writing on the wall since 2012. The three major brewers got the job done, across hundreds of product labels, in just two years.”
“After six years of voluntary pregnancy labelling and two federal government surveys to measure uptake, the best the alcohol industry could muster was 75 per cent compliance. Clearly, that’s nowhere near good enough.”
“Governments expected that industry would bear the warnings on all products… not just some or even most. In the end, Federal and State Ministers have been left with no choice but to mandate pregnancy warning labels.”
While giving support to this measure, and criticising others in the industry, the Brewers Association has previously strongly lobbied against labeling changes in other areas of interest.
In a submission regarding the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Australian Food Labelling) Bill 2012, the Association arguing that changes to labeling would be costly for brewers, with the costs having to be passed on to consumers and that a major public information campaign would be a more effective way to communicate issues of ingredient provenance.
The voluntary system has previously been criticised as ‘window dressing’ by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.
The Public Health Association of Australia applauded the decision but argued that the labelling should go further.
Association CEO Terry Slevin told The Australian that “the next logical step for alcohol warning labels is for Australia to follow Ireland’s lead and introduce mandatory labels which warn of the risks associated between drinking alcohol and developing cancer”.
Independent Brewers Association Australia CEO Alexis Roitman told Brews News that the organisation would support the decision. The IBA is currently developing its own set of labelling guidelines, which will be released next week.
Story by Matt Kirkegaard and Megan Sahli.