Leading industry bodies have criticised Food Standards Australia-New Zealand (FSANZ) over its new mandatory pregnancy labels which have been described as short-sighted, flawed and ineffective.
Alcohol Beverages Australia has said FSANZ has previously acknowledged there is no evidence that warning labels change behaviour of ‘at-risk’ group, but is now imposing mandatory labels, which will be a major cost for producers and growers already struggling after recent bushfires and floods.
“Our industry has made it very clear to FSANZ that we support making the existing voluntary pregnancy labelling scheme mandatory.
“This decision is a bitter disappointment – these new labels will impose costs of another $400m*, for no significant improvement in health outcomes,” says CEO of Alcohol Beverages Australia, Andrew Wilsmore.
“According to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 98.8 per cent of women either abstain or reduce their alcohol consumption when pregnant (up from 96.6 per cent in 2004), indicating high levels of awareness of the risks of drinking alcohol while pregnant.
“So many of our growers and producers are struggling after the bush fires, droughts and flooding. The last thing they need is a big bill from bureaucrats wanting to enforce their own artwork onto a label,” he added.
Industry made close to 100 submissions to FSANZ all arguing against their design proposal, and Australian Wine & Grape sait was deeply disappointed by the move and urged the Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation to reject it immediately.
“This pregnancy warning label is a classic example of bureaucratic over-reach, and is not a good example of science-based decision making” said Tony Battaglene, Chief Executive of Australian Grape & Wine.
Australian Grape & Wine said it is a strong supporter of the existing voluntary labelling arrangements and industry initiatives, which work in tandem to raise awareness of the dangers of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), and have contributed to the significant improvements in the rates of women abstaining, or reducing their alcohol consumption during pregnancy, which Wilsmore highlighted.
“Our concerns extend beyond simply the costs to grape and wine businesses, though they will be significant,” Battaglene said.
“Evidence tells us the current initiatives are driving positive cultural change in Australia. If FSANZ was able show how this new label-design would lead to a significant change in drinking behaviour, we would take a different positon. But given they can’t, why are Ministers being asked to consider a design that will be costly to businesses, but achieve very little?”.
The Association also highlighted that many small business, feeling the pinch after recent destructive weather events will now face the cost of changing labels on every different product in their portfolio, which may be up to 100 different wines.
“It’s clear FSANZ had an outcome in mind before it commenced its consultation process. We participated in good faith, but FSANZ has ignored the science and the views of grape growers and winemakers, and gone with its pre-conceived ideas.”
“Surely the best approach is to make the existing voluntary label mandatory, and invest further in initiatives to raise awareness about the dangers of FASD,” Mr Battaglene.
“While this might be a box ticking exercise for FSANZ, it’s a kick in the guts to Australia’s 6,000 grape growers and 2,500 winemakers who are battling the impacts of fires, smoke and drought. It’s now up to the Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation to reject this proposal.
“We urge Ministers to go back to the drawing board and consider a label that will maintain the positive trends in drinking during pregnancy in Australia, while minimising the costs and risks to wine businesses. Mandating the current voluntary pregnancy warning label would be a common sense solution and we encourage Ministers to take this approach.”