Pregnancy warning labels on alcohol to be mandatory in Australia and NZ

“Pregnancy warning” labels on alcohol sold in New Zealand and Australia will be mandatory within three years.

The Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation accepted new standards proposed by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand this week, which has pushed back the deadline for multi-coloured pregnancy warning labels on alcohol.

The labels will be printed in red, black and white, and read “Pregnancy Warning”.

Ministers first agreed to add warning labels to beverages in 2018.

New Zealand and Australia, which have a joint food regulation system and share food standards for labelling, currently have voluntary labelling of alcoholic beverages with health warnings about not drinking alcohol while pregnant.

On Friday (17 July), Australian and New Zealand governments have granted alcohol producers an extra year to help them transition as the label’s wording requirement was changed from “health warning” to “pregnancy warning”.

The Australian Government proposed an amendment to remove the multi-colour prescriptions for the label and instead to have a  pregnancy warning label with contrasting colours, in accordance with legibility requirements already accepted in the country’s  food standards code, but this was ultimately rejected by ministers.

According to the Lancet, Australia has one of the highest rates of alcohol use during pregnancy in the world, at 35.6%.

Caterina Giorg, the head of Australlia’s Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, said the labels will benefit the community and reduce Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

“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.

Tony Battaglene, the chief executive of Australian Grape and Wine, said he was satisfied with the “more targeted headline of ‘Pregnancy Warning’, this change does not address the Ministerial Forum’s concerns about unreasonable costs to wine businesses in any meaningful way.”

Australia’s drinks industry has applied pregnancy warning labels on a voluntary basis since around 2011.

According to the trade body, the primary cost concern for Australian wine businesses is the requirement to use black, white and red on the warning label on the bottle, and on the outer packaging.

“Small family-owned wine businesses simply won’t be able to take this kind of hit, especially on the back of drought, bushfires, smoke and now COVID-19” said Battaglene.

Australian Grape & Wine claims that if contrasting colours were used instead of the three proposed mandatory colours, wine businesses would save around 35% per SKU, compared to the more costly option.

“Contrasting colours are all that is required for every other FSANZ warning label and it will raise awareness in this instance too. The only thing it won’t do is drive small wine businesses into the ground.”

4 Responses to “Pregnancy warning labels on alcohol to be mandatory in Australia and NZ”

  1. Matt Johnston says:

    Yet again the wine industry is discriminated against. The Wine Equalisation Tax (WET), was a “un-equalisation” tax as far as the industry is concerned.
    Now, if wine products are forced to adhere to a warning regulation that is different to the food industry’s warning on salt, cholesterol, kilojoules, and allergens such as peanuts, than it is pure and simple discrimination. Apparently the current warning for all of those health risk components are sufficient, even though there are people who could die from tiny traces of peanuts. I don’t believe that there is the risk of anyone dying as a result of drinking a glass of wine.
    This is especially relevant when addressing health concerns for people with poor literacy levels and differing cultural backgrounds, which is apparently one of the factors cited on the specific pregnancy warning for wine. If Black and white warning for peanuts is acceptable for everyone in Australia, regardless of literacy level, and cultural background, then the same should apply to wine.
    Is this new ruling being applied to other alcohol categories such as beer and spirits? Or has the Wine industry been “un-equalised” once again?

    • Kai Crow says:

      Matt, the legislation applies to all alcoholic drinks sold, so no, not discriminating against the wine industry specifically.
      As for the need for contrast compared to allergen information: the big difference is that people with peanut allergies etc generally specifically search out information relating to their allergies, whereas the primary purpose of the legislation is to combat a lack of education and awareness around the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy – ie it is not something that the people most likely to be at risk from are specifically looking for, so the aim is to increase visibility over what has previously been achieved by the optionally included labels which typically have been in a simple contrasting colour.

    • Daryl Mattschoss says:

      Daryl M says
      August 27, 2020

      Matt, I work in the wine industry in packaging where about half the wine we package is contract bottling, a good half of wine labels don’t have any pregnancy warnings at all and others have a pregnancy warning the size of a baby pea.There was an article on ABC a couple of years ago that stated one in three in WA youth detention have foetal alcohol spectrum disorder from their mothers drinking during pregency, this is a huge problem. Another article reported Ice addition pales into insignificance compared to harms linked to alcohol abuse the AMA says.
      Another thing with wine and other alcoholic beverages is that alcohol (ethanol) is carcinogenic and linked to bowel, breast & liver cancer.

  2. Daryl Mattschoss says:

    Daryl M says
    Matt, I work in the wine industry in packaging where about half the wine we package is contract bottling, a good half of wine labels don’t have any pregnancy warnings at all and others have a pregnancy warning the size of a pea. There was an article on ABC a couple of years ago that stated one in three in WA youth detention have foetal alcohol spectrum disorder from their mothers drinking during pregnancy, this is a huge problem. Another article reported ice addition pales into insignificance compared to harms linked to alcohol abuse the AMA says. Another thing with wine and other alcoholic beverages is that alcohol (ethanol) is carcinogenic and linked to bowel, breast & liver cancer.

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