Drinking during pregnancy - unambiguous labelling needed

16 Jul 2020

Turning Point is committed to reducing alcohol-related harms across the community, and supports the use of strong, clear messages that warn of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy. Turning Point seeks the most effective health warning label to be endorsed by government ministers at the Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation.

health warnings descriptive label

The need for a clear heath warning about the risk of alcohol use in pregnancy

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are a group of conditions resulting from alcohol consumption during pregnancy. FASD have no known cure, and result in a life-long disability which significantly impacts affected children, their families and the wider community. While both the Australian and New Zealand government advise pregnant women to avoid consuming alcohol, approximately 25 percent of women in Australia and 20 percent of women in New Zealand continue to consume alcohol while pregnant.

Evidence from public health research has demonstrated that pregnancy warning labels can contribute to increased awareness of the risks of drinking alcohol while pregnant, and encourage behaviour change in this group. These changes also transcend individual responses and can contribute to the development of social norms to support behaviour change.

The importance of ‘red’ font in the delivery of a health warning

We believe that a clear health warning about the risk of alcohol use in pregnancy is a vital component of public health initiatives to reduce alcohol-related harm. We support the recommendation of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to recommend red, black and white in the label and emphasise the importance of this colour scheme. The use of red signal words and graphics on a black and white background is essential to ensure the label is not only visible, but that it stands out and is noticed.

Maximising the public health impact of the message

Turning Point supports the use of the phrase ‘Health Warning’ in preference to ‘Pregnancy Warning’ on alcohol-containing products. FASD are preventable, and a strategy that maximises individual women’s awareness of the risks associated with alcohol use, combined with a normative message to the broader community to support women will have greater impact. A change from ‘Health Warning’ to ‘Pregnancy Warning’ would narrow the audience of the label and undermine its effectiveness. It would also not fulfil the objective of providing information to the broader community.

The public health benefit outweighs any costs to industry

The alcohol industry has argued that the heath warning message proposed by FSANZ would be associated with unfair costs. However, these arguments have been shown to be incorrect in the Decision Regulatory Impact Statement, and FSANZ’s cost-benefit analysis, which have been confirmed by an independent peer review. Importantly from a public health perspective, FSANZ has reaffirmed that the benefits to the community of implementing an effective pregnancy health warning will significantly outweigh the costs to industry. Only a small proportion of FASD cases need to be prevented to offset the one-off cost to industry of introducing the label. Additionally, FSANZ has already extended the transition period for including the label from two years to three years, allowing more than enough time for the alcohol industry to implement the warning by building it into regular label updates, which typically occur once a year or more frequently.

Ministerial action can result in an effective warning label

Turning Point has written to ministers to ask that they approve the most effective health warning label at the meeting of the Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation on 17th July 2020 and prioritise the health and wellbeing of future Australian children. Ministers have the opportunity to mandate use of an effective label that will have long-term benefits in avoiding Australian and New Zealand babies being born with FASD.

What can you do?

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education has a letter-writing action for members of the public to make it super easy for people to write to their MP about this topic.

An Open letter which is supported by Turning Point, Alcohol Change Victoria and many organisations is available to sign here.

More information

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