After more than two years of discussion, Food Forum Ministers have decided that pregnancy warning labels with prescribed colour schemes will be mandated.
Despite lobbying from the alcohol industry, six members of the forum on Friday voted for the mandating of a red, black and white colour scheme on the warning labels, which was recommended by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). Four ministers voted for a contrast scheme which had previously been recommended by the Australian Government.
FSANZ confirmed that the signal words would be changed from ‘Health Warning’ to ‘Pregnancy Warning’ and that the standard would be included in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Brewers will need to implement the labels on all relevant packaging in the next three years.
There has been a lack of consensus in the alcohol industry as to what aspects of a label they would support. The Brewers Association, which represents Coopers, Lion and Carlton and United Breweries, encouraged the sanctioning of labelling, but criticised the mandatory colours.
Alcohol Beverages Australia initially lobbied against mandatory labelling altogether, but later softened its stance to critiquing the mandatory colours.
Meanwhile the Independent Brewers Association has staunchly been against any mandatory label, saying it would cost brewers more than $100 million over the next 10 years.
Media release from the Independent Brewers Association
A bureaucratic decision to change alcoholic warning labels could result in the loss of over 600 breweries across the country – 3,000 Australian jobs gone, bringing the beer industry to its knees.
The independent beer industry is already reeling from a tough year following the economic impacts of COVID-19, bushfires, and floods.
Today, the Government decided to effectively bill independent breweries around the country $113 million dollars so the Government can change colours on a new warning label.
The Independent Brewers Association says while they wholeheartedly support the new pregnancy warning label, the decision to mandate excessive printing costs is bureaucracy gone mad.
“This decision is one of the worst examples of over-regulation in recent memory”, said Peter Philip, Chairman of the IBA and founder of Wayward Brewing in Camperdown Sydney.
“We support mandatory labelling, but we’re extremely disappointed that certain Ministers have chosen to ignore the pleas of indie brewers across the country.
“By deviating from the usual requirements for contrast colours in favour of a strict red- black-white colour scheme, 600 small brewers are under threat including the thousands who work for them.
“It will absolutely result in people losing their jobs and the cost of independent beer to go up.” “This will be devastating to small breweries at a time when we are just starting to recover from COVID-19 and are looking down the barrel of a global recession.
At today’s Food Forum, Ministers from Australia and New Zealand voted in favour of a prescribed colour scheme for pregnancy labelling that will impose unnecessary, immediate and ongoing costs on brewers.
The colour scheme will require brewers to change their packaging due to the strict colour scheme that is being mandated rather than just using contrasting colours already being used on labels.
The IBA has estimated the cost of implementation to exceed $113 million over the next ten years including $44 million in one-off costs.
This is equivalent to the salaries of over 1600 people employed by small brewers across Australia.
“Even poison labels don’t need to use specific colours, is beer really riskier than arsenic?”
The IBA calls on the Government to provide for an impactful yet affordable contrast label similar to all other food and beverage warnings.
“It is deeply disappointing that this sensible and balanced proposal did not enjoy the support of all States and Territories and indie beer loving consumers should rightly hold these politicians to account in the next election for the loss of their local indie brewery,” Mr Philip said.
The Independent Brewers Association represents over 600 small and medium business in every state and territory across Australia with most members located in regional areas.
Indie brewers directly employ over 3,000 people and support the employment of more than 25,000 in related industries of agriculture, logistics, hospitality, manufacturing, and services.
Media release from the Foundation of Alcohol Research and Education
Food safety Ministers in Australia and New Zealand have listened to the community and put the health and safety of families first by agreeing to introduce an effective health warning on alcohol products.
Ministers have today agreed to the recommendation of Food Standards Australia New Zealand which is a red, black and white warning, with the signal wording ‘pregnancy warning’.
“Collectively, we genuinely thank the Food Ministers for implementing a warning that will benefit the community and reduce Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD),” said FARE CEO Caterina Giorgi.
The Ministers were encouraged to do the right thing by almost 4,000 community leaders and advocates and more than 180 community, health, medical and research organisations.
“This decision made today by Ministers will improve the health and wellbeing of Australian families and communities for generations to come. It’s commendable that Ministers are now introducing a pregnancy health warning which the evidence has proven will effectively alert people to the significant risks of alcohol exposure in pregnancy,” Ms Giorgi said.
“Having a red, black and white label is so important so the message can be understood by all Australians regardless of their literacy levels or cultural backgrounds,” she said.
NOFASD Australia COO Sophie Harrington says, “Tens of thousands of Australian families who are impacted by FASD are celebrating today’s decision, because they know how significantly this lifelong disability affects the health and wellbeing of our loved ones”.
“This new mandatory label will go a long way to improve community awareness of the risks of drinking alcohol throughout pregnancy, and will result in fewer babies born with FASD in years to come,” Ms Harrington said.
Press release from Alcohol Beverages Australia
“Mandating colours on pregnancy warnings will unnecessarily cost jobs and livelihoods”
Australia’s beer, wine and spirits producers are deeply disappointed that Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia, NT, and the ACT pressed ahead with a prescribed colour scheme that will impose substantial unnecessary costs on producers, while reiterating our support for mandatory pregnancy warning labels, following today’s decision by Food Forum Ministers.
This decision was not about mandatory labelling as producers support that. It was about cost and the resultant impact on business and jobs. A colour contrast version would have avoided the drastic costs that a mandated three colour version imposes.
Andrew Wilsmore, CEO of Alcohol Beverages Australia, said that he was pleased that the industry’s voluntary labelling initiative, instituted in 2014 and now in almost universal usage, will be strengthened and made mandatory.
“Our pictogram of a pregnant woman holding a glass with a line through her silhouette is familiar sight to many Australians, and we support the evolution and wider implementation of the design.
“But we’re extremely disappointed that some Ministers have chosen to ignore the voices of thousands of small brewers, winemakers and distillers across the country by deviating from the usual requirements for contrast colours in favour of a strict red-black-white colour scheme that will cost producers hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
“Even poison labels don’t have to meet those requirements.”
Mr Wilsmore said that many small producers would be faced with set-up costs of close to $100,000 to pay for the initiative, which when combined with the ongoing devastating impacts of COVID-19 would push some them over the brink and out of business.
“Larger producers will also take a big hit, with one-off costs equivalent to the annual salaries of close to 6,500 employees,” Mr Wilsmore said.
“Mandatory pregnancy labelling is a positive step forward, but the same outcome of a highly visible warning could have been achieved at far less cost, and this couldn’t have come at a worse possible time for producers.”
“On behalf of Australia’s award-winning beer, wine and spirit producers we commend the Commonwealth, NSW, Queensland and South Australia for moving an amendment to provide for an impactful yet affordable contrast label similar to all other food and beverage warnings. It is deeply disappointing that this sensible and balanced proposal did not enjoy the support of the other States and Territories,” Mr Wilsmore said.