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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.”

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