In July, 2020 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). This was a hard fought victory for public health amidst aggressive Big Alcohol opposition.
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.
Big Alcohol opposition
The alcohol industry first used the argument that too much information will confuse consumers. Then the industry switched to the “too costly” argument.
And even after the label has been adopted alcohol industry lobby groups are continuing to oppose the new mandatory label using the same arguments of it being “too costly” for one of the most profitable industries in the world.
- Selling alcohol is extremely profitable.
- Alcoholic beverages were the eighth most profitable sector of 94 global industries.
- That means Big Alcohol is only slightly less profitable than Big Tobacco (number 3) but much more profitable than for example the soft drinks industry.
The newly adopted label is a red, white and black label with the wording “PREGNANCY WARNING: alcohol can cause lifelong harm to your baby.” The alcohol industry has until 2023 to adopt the mandatory labeling of all alcohol bottles, cans and packaging.
The evidence is clear that the new labeling will save lives.
In addition, 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 fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) cases was $3 million, which would amount to $13,847 per person. Evidently, the “too costly” talking point of the alcohol industry falls short.
The latest strategy of the alcohol lobby
The latest attack by the alcohol lobby is to push for FSANZ to be moved from the Health Department to the Agriculture portfolio. This could significantly weaken the regulator and could affect the rollout of the pregnancy warning labels by 2023. The alcohol lobby group Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) is at the forefront of this lobby push. They are further calling to scale back the powers of FSANZ and to include more industry representatives in the board.
The timing is not a coincidence. Since ABA lost the pregnancy warning label fight last year, FSANZ is now consulting on proposed energy labels on alcohol bottles disclosing their kilojoule content, another measure that the alcohol lobby ABA is vehemently against.
According to an ABA submission to a government review of the law governing FSANZ, the Big Alcohol lobby group is seeking to limit the role of the regulator to food safety and preventing acute foodborne illnesses and stop the extension to broader health policy, such as the pursuit of consumer behavioral change, as seen in the case of the pregnancy warning labeling and the latest kilojoule content labeling.
According to Big Alcohol, the FSANZ should not be tackling public health issues such as obesity, non-communicable disease and the consumption of alcohol, and should instead focus only on “preventing acute illness from contaminants and poor hygiene practice”.
The alcohol lobby is calling to amend section 18 of the law governing the FSANZ to reflect these industry favorable changes.
Chief executive of the Public Health Association of Australia Terry Slevin wrote to Agriculture Minister David Littleproud about the alcohol industry’s lobby push to move the FSANZ to the agriculture portfolio. He warned that this would water down the regulator’s role and would “jeopardise the health and vitality of the nation”.
It should be noted the estimated cost of alcohol harm to Australia is $36 billion per year,” wrote Terry Slevin Public Health Association of Australia chief executive, as per The Sydney Morning Herald.
In Australia, nearly 6000 lives are lost every year and more than 144,000 people hospitalised, making alcohol use one of our nation’s greatest preventive health challenges. In addition, alcohol use is causally linked to over 200 disease and injury conditions.”
Terry Slevin, chief executive, Public Health Association of Australia
The alcohol industry has also complained that they are under-represented in the FSANZ board.
Meanwhile, former FSANZ chief executive Mark Booth resigned in August. Chair Robyn Kruk left the board in April when the government declined to reappoint her for a second term, as per a decision made by the cabinet. It is unclear whether they were asked to leave or voluntarily stood down.
Public health advocates fear that if the FSANZ’s regulatory role is weakened the mandatory pregnancy warning labels might not come into force as planned.
The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) states that alcohol industry groups have lobbied for two decades to try and prevent alcohol warnings to be placed on alcohol products.
Finally, when a decision has been made for that to happen, they’re [Big Alcohol] now trying to water down the very standards that are there to protect the community,” said Caterina Giorgi, chief executive of Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), as per The Sydney Morning Herald.
Caterina Giorgi, chief executive, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE)
Addiction industries aggressive lobbying exposed – the case of Big Gambling (and Big Alcohol)
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has had the gambling industry in his sights for more than a decade. But, he admits, when he took on the gambling industry in 2010, he wasn’t prepared for the bloodbath that followed, according to ABC News reporting.
I underestimated the power of the poker machine lobby,” Wilkie says.
At the end of the day, even at the highest level, [Australia’s major parties] were running a protection racket for the gambling industry.”Independent MP Andrew Wilkie
In 2010, Wilkie secured then-prime minister Julia Gillard’s support to regulate the Big Gambling. In response the gambling lobby – led by peak industry groups the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) and ClubsNSW – declared war. Notably, Big Alcohol giants are partners of the AHA, including Diageo, Carlton & United Breweries, Lion Beer, Coca-Cola Amatil, and Coopers.
Under pressure from the gambling lobby, Gillard backflipped in 2012, putting in place only weak legislation. Reasons for the Big Gambling victory to derail public health oriented regulation were the powerful political base, deep political connections and even deeper pockets.
The Australian Hotels Association and ClubsNSW, together, disclosed roughly $16 million in political contributions between 1998-99 and 2019-20, an ABC investigation has revealed.
Generous donations are the backbone of a tremendous lobbying exercise that has allowed the industry to amass enormous power.
ABC News presented a subset of a larger dataset of disclosures by both donors and recipients that encompasses more than $80 million in political payments over 22 years from more than 370 gambling-related donors.
The data is based on annual disclosures to the Australian Electoral Commission’s Transparency Register, a public database of the financial dealings of political parties, donors and others involved in the federal electoral process.
Donor-disclosed payments are only a portion of all payments traced to gambling-related entities. However, they include key details not available from disclosures made by recipients, revealing clues about the pattern, timing and purpose of payments.
Over the past 22 years, hundreds of gambling-related donors disclosed a combined $40 million in political donations or direct expenditure.
On average, the total contribution per donor over those 22 years was $203,822.
The top-four donors disclosed more than $3 million each.
By far, the largest gambling industry donor is the Australian Hotels Association (AHA), which made payments of at least $10.67 million over the 22 years.
The AHA partners with Big Alcohol and represents more than 5,000 hotels and pubs across Australia.
Part of their lobbying strategy is to deploy political donations to favor political parties that support the gambling industry. They operate like this on state and federal level, whenever its gambling interests are threatened.
An illustration is that the AHA’s donations increased over time, with nearly 77% made since 2010 – when the fight against the public health reforms proposed by MP Andrew Wilkie began. The AHA’s contributions spiked in 2010-13, during the war against Gillard and Wilkie’s poker machine reforms.
The AHA also deploys its financial power against specific political leaders that might threatened gambling profits.
For instance, the AHA has consistently taken a keen interest in South Australia (SA), home state of former independent senator Nick Xenophon. Mr Xenophon’s political platform contained public health stances on gambling industry regulations.
ABC reporting shows that over the 22 years, the AHA has spent more in SA ($1.76 million), with its 630 hotels, than in NSW ($1.42 million), where it represents 1,800 licensed premises.
Another example for Big Gambling’s campaign against individual law makers is Mr Wilkie’s home state of Tasmania. Here, the AHA has given nearly 60 times as much to the Liberals ($329,043) as to Labor ($6,000).
Much of this occurred in 2018, when Labor promised to remove poker machines from hotels and clubs when the existing license expired in 2022.
“[The gambling lobby] will fight tooth and nail to maintain its income … They are ruthless and dangerous people,” he says.
But I’ve dealt with bigger challenges than these clowns in my life. The more they try to bully me … the more pissed off I am, and hardened in my resolve.”Independent MP Andrew Wilkie
These revelations about the lobby onslaught of Big Gambling also bring into sharp focus Big Alcohol’s tactics to derail, delay, and destroy public health oriented alcohol policy solutions to avoid any threat to their profits.
The Sydney Morning Herald: “‘Alarming’ alcohol lobby push to weaken public health regulation“
ABC News: “Under the influence“