Alcohol lobby says new pregnancy warning labels ‘too expensive’

The latest official data shows more than a third of pregnant women in Australia consume alcohol knowingly or unknowingly, despite health authorities advising there is no safe level at which to drink while pregnant.

The ABA ramped up its lobbying efforts in Canberra this week, hosting politicians at a lavish event in Parliament House, ahead of the decision to be made by state and federal food ministers next year.

Public health advocates say alcohol producers are using label design to obscure the DrinkWise warning.

If approved by the federal government, the new label will be mandatory on all bottles of alcohol with a volume of 200 millilitres or more, with smaller bottles to carry only the silhouette.

“These changes are likely to cause alcohol manufacturers and importers to incur substantial costs to comply with the label changes – even for large manufacturers with the addition of an extra colour, as well as for smaller distillers, brewers and winemakers,” Mr Wilsmore said.

He pointed to PwC modelling to estimate the total industry cost at $600 million nationally.


But the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) pointed out it took Carlton & United Breweries only a week to change its label to capitalise on the result of the AFL grand final with its Carlton Draught Richmond 2019 AFL Premiership cans.

“It shows when they’ve got a commercial imperative to do it, they can move very quickly,” FARE’s policy director, Trish Hepworth, said.

Mr Wilsmore, who has called on all alcohol producers to contact politicians asking them to reject the new label, said there were already “high levels of awareness” in the Australian community about the dangers of alcohol to unborn children.

But Ms Hepworth said this was not the case and pregnant women were faced with societal pressure to continue drinking.

“We know there is still a level of confusion around women and alcohol,” she said. “This isn’t just about women. It’s about the whole community knowing that alcohol is risky for women to drink if they may be pregnant.

“It shouldn’t just be up to women to battle the societal pressure of people who say ‘one or two drinks won’t hurt’ or ‘my mum drank and she was fine’.”

In 2016, 34.7 per cent of all pregnant women consumed alcohol, including 25.2 per cent who kept drinking once they knew they were pregnant, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

A Senate inquiry is examining the effectiveness of approaches to prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, which includes physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities, and is caused by alcohol exposure in the womb.

Liberal Senator Richard Colbeck said the Food Ministers’ Forum, on which he sits with his state and territory counterparts, would decide whether to back the new label once FSANZ, which has consulted industry and public health advocates, made a final decision. The forum next meets in early 2020.

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