In a win for public health on July 17, 2020, the ministers of the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation adopted mandatory pregnancy warning labeling, recommended by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand…

In a win for public health on July 17, 2020, the ministers of the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation adopted mandatory pregnancy warning labeling, recommended by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

The forum adopted the recommended red, white and black label with the wording “PREGNANCY WARNING: alcohol can cause lifelong harm to your baby.” The alcohol industry now has three years to adopt the mandatory labeling of all alcohol bottles, cans and packaging.

FSANZ recommended pregnancy warning label adopted by Forum Ministers

Heavy Big Alcohol opposition

It was in no way an easy fight to win this policy measure. Big Alcohol lobbied aggressively until the end. In fact, the final communique from the Forum Ministers as well as the Forum Chair Minister Richard Colbeck clearly state that

The Australian Government proposed an amendment to remove the colour prescriptions for the label and instead to prescribe the pregnancy warning label to have contrasting colours in accordance with the general legibility requirements outlined in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (1.2.1-24). This was not agreed but was supported by South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.”

Eventually, the majority of the ministers were not swayed by alcohol industry talking points and adopted the evidence-based, consumer-tested label that went through extensive consultation with public health groups as well as industry.

By the time the mandatory labeling is implemented in 2023, the fight for this much needed public health measure would have lasted 17 years since it was first brought to notice with the FSANZ. Dr Ingrid Johnston and Professor Simone Pettigrew have summarized this 17 year struggle in their article on Intouch Public Health.

Public interest or private profits?

Alcohol industry lobby groups are continuing to oppose the new mandatory label using the same arguments of it being “too costly” for the industry.
But evidence is clear: the mandatory health warning label about alcohol during pregnancy will save many children from being born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).

FASD is Australia’s leading cause of preventable non-genetic disability. An analysis by FSANZ has shown the one-off cost to alcohol manufacturers of implementing the new labels was $4924 for each product, while the annual cost to taxpayers of health and disability services for new FASD cases was $3 million, which would amount to $13,847 per person.

Big Alcohol lobby group Australian Grape and Wine Chief Executive, Tony Battaglene, has said that it would be better to focus more attention on increasing FASD awareness than labeling. In response to this argument University of Sydney Professor of Paediatrics, Elizabeth Elliot said labels were an important part of broader efforts to reduce incidences of FASD.

This is one very important step in a whole preventative strategy, but it’s actually crucial that when people go to [consume] from a bottle of alcohol in Australia, they are made aware that if they’re pregnant that alcohol could harm their unborn child,” said Professor Elliot, as per ABC News.

Elizabeth Elliot, Professor of Paediatrics, University of Sydney

Communities and public health experts welcome the new labeling policy

Affected communities, public interest advocates and health experts have all welcomed the new label and commended the Ministers of Australia and New Zealand for making the right decision to safeguard children from FASD.

We’re really pleased that today ministers have decided to support this label…

This is really important for the whole community.

It takes a village to raise a child, and knowledge and awareness across the community is really important in influencing the decisions that people make when they’re pregnant,” said Caterina Giorgi, CEO of Foundation of Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), as per ABC News.

Caterina Giorgi, CEO, FARE

Advocates also commended the ministers for not yielding to Big Alcohol lobbying pressure.

We are pleased that our Food Ministers have put the health and wellbeing of our children first, before alcohol industry interests, by voting for an effective and clear health pregnancy warning label on alcohol products.

Despite intense lobbying by the alcohol industry to water down the warning label, the ministers have followed the evidence-based advice and adopted an effective label,” said  Shenae Hawkins, South West regional education officer, Cancer Council WA, as per The West Australian.

Shenae Hawkins, South West regional education officer, Cancer Council WA

Dr Ingrid Johnston, a senior policy officer at PHAA and Professor Simone Pettigrew, the Head of Food Policy at the George Institute for Global Health, write on Intouch Public Health that this win for public health needs to be celebrated.

Movendi International supported the advocacy effort and is saluting the heart-driven efforts of hundreds of organizations and thousands of community activists who advocated and promoted evidence against all alcohol industry spin and persevered till the end.