Australia: Regulator Revises Alcohol Pregnancy Warning

The Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) has revised the wording on the proposed pregnancy warning labels for alcohol packaging, but rejected alcohol industry claims that the label change is too costly.

Since the FSANZ proposed the pregnancy warning label for alcohol packaging, Big Alcohol has been fighting against implementing it. First the alcohol industry was claiming that the label would be “too confusing” for consumers and then moving on to say that it would be “too costly” for the industry to implement.

Later on they added another claim to their list of bizarre and baseless excuses to avoid implementing the label health warning when alcohol industry lobbyists stated the label “does not contrast well on a red label/bottle”

Now the FSANZ has changed the wording, but has remained firmly against the claim that the label would be too costly.

FSANZ had previously recommended a red, black and white label that said “HEALTH WARNING: Alcohol can cause lifelong harm to your baby”. The alcohol industry opposed use of red colour with their bizarre argument that it won’t be contrasting on bottles. The industry also wanted the mandatory words to only be “PREGNANCY WARNING”.

In April, FSANZ was asked by the food ministers to review the colour requirements and “signal wording” of the label, taking into account its cost to industry.

The new label recommended by the FSANZ retains the red, black and white colours but changed “HEALTH WARNING” to “PREGNANCY WARNING”. The transition period to switch to the new label has been extended to three years (previously it was two years), taking into account the economic impacts of the summer bushfires and COVID-19.

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) chief executive Caterina Giorgi said that the alcohol industry is still trying to water down the label. She said it was disappointing “HEALTH WARNING” had been changed to “PREGNANCY WARNING”, which had a narrower meaning.

The majority of Australians want an effective pregnancy health warning label on alcohol products, and more than 1,500 individuals and 150 organisations across Australia and New Zealand have recently signed Open Letters calling for Ministers to do the right thing for future generations,” Ms Giorgi said, as per FARE.

Movendi International is among the signatories of these Open Letters.

FSANZ rejects industry’s “too costly” argument

In their report, the FSANZ rejected the industry claims that the labels would be too costly after fact-checking and finding the label would cost $400 million and that the average cost for each producer may have been “overestimated” by the alcohol industry.

FSANZ retained the red colour because red colour was supported by “the best available scientific evidence” on legibility and noticeability and would “maintain consistency in consumer understanding of the label”. Red was the colour consumers rated as having “the greatest hazard connotation”, it said, and a “significantly larger warning label” would be needed if the colour was changed.

Big Alcohol lobby group, Alcohol Beverages Australia chief executive Andrew Wilsmore has said FSANZ should have abandoned the red colour at the “direction” of food ministers. However, FSANZ has made it clear that ministers could not direct what the regulator must decide in a review.

Alcohol Beverages Australia is the lobby front group for some of the world’s major alcohol producers, including Beam Suntory, Asahi, Diageo, Brown-Forman, Pernod Ricard, and Campari. It is noteworthy that these corporations are fighting the alcohol health warning label so aggressively.

CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education Caterina Giorgi said:

For years, the alcohol lobby, funded by large alcohol corporations, have campaigned for policymakers and Ministers to block an effective pregnancy health warning on alcohol products, citing cost arguments that have been shown to be incorrect.

And now that the decision has been made for warnings to be mandatory, these lobby groups are pushing for the label to be watered down — for it to use words with less cut through and to remove required colours, which would make it invisible,” Ms Giorgi said, as per FARE’s media release.

As Movendi Interational previously reported, the Australian food minister, Richard Colbeck, defended the delay of label implementation in parliament. The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation which rejected implementing the new label using the industry argument that the label is “too costly” was also chaired by Minister Colbeck.

FSANZ has modestly estimated the health costs of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in Australia and New Zealand at $27.6 billion over 20 years, not including “wider social costs such as costs to the justice system [and] lost productivity from individuals with FASD”. Therefore, the FSANZ justified that the cost to manufacturers would be outweighed by even a small reduction in the number of babies born each year with FASD (about 5% of all births).

NOFASD Australia chief executive Louise Gray said that three years is enough time for the industry to change labels considering that the industry changes labels frequently to include vintage details and refresh brands.

Ministers urged to approve effective pregnancy health warning on alcohol labels

Following the announcement of FSANZ, health and community groups urged Food safety Ministers to put the health and wellbeing of families and communities first by approving the most effective pregnancy health warning label on alcohol products when they meet in July 2020. They also commended the new recommendation by the FSANZ that a pregnancy health warning label with three colours – black, white and red – is most effective and will achieve the greatest impact.

In particular, the use of red makes the label easily identifiable to the eye and conveys a message of warning to the community that alcohol use in pregnancy causes harm,” said Professor Elizabeth Elliott, Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Sydney and Co-Director of FASD Australia, the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence.

These harms, which are preventable, include Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, birth defects and developmental problems,” Professor Elliott said, as per FARE.

On July 17, Ministers on the Forum on Food Regulation will make their decision on whether to endorse the FSANZ label.

For further reading:

Australia: Big Alcohol Delays Pregnancy Warning Labels (Again)