There is widespread industry support for mandating pregnancy warning labels on all alcohol products in Australia. Indeed many producers already have warnings on their labels through the DrinkWise voluntary scheme.
The pictogram of a pregnant woman holding a glass with a line through her silhouette is featured on the vast majority of Australia’s alcohol products. This pictogram is set to be updated with a new message and mandated, which has industry support.
However mandating colours as part of the label is causing concern because it is set to cost producers, and consumers, an extra $400m with no evidence that it will reduce fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).
“Mandating colours, instead of the existing contrast requirements established under the Food Code, would impose the biggest cost on consumers, without any scientific basis, for no measurable benefit,” said the CEO of Alcohol Beverages Australia, Andrew Wilsmore.
“This would cost consumers an extra $400m, with ongoing high costs due to the more expensive label printing costs. At our industry’s average yearly earnings, this regulatory burden would be the equivalent of close to 6,500 jobs that could otherwise have been created.”
The process of agreeing to the mandated label has taken too long and, while Wilsmore expressed his disappointment with this, he did say there is still time for the industry to take action against the decision and pressure the bureaucrats to reconsider mandating colours as part of the new label.
Back in October 2018 Food Forum Ministers agreed that a mandatory labelling standard for pregnancy warning labels on packaged alcoholic beverages should be developed. They agreed this should include a pictogram and relevant warning statement, but this where bureaucratic folly took over.
“What should have been a simple exercise was made infinitely more complicated when bureaucrats at FRSC (Food Regulation Standing Committee) and FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) continued to put forward a proposed design that was not in keeping with the clear direction given to them by Governments,” Wilsmore explains.
“Despite the clear direction given by Food Forum Ministers to ditch the colour version, the bureaucrats just can’t let go of their pet design and it is back again.
“Fortunately Ministers can now insist on the common sense design they and producers supported in March by amending the mandated colour to be in line with Food Code requirements for legibility and contrast, and will be cost-effective to implement.”
This is where you and everyone across this industry can help and can make a difference.
By contacting your local MP and Food Forum Ministers to express concerns over the FSANZ proposed three colour pregnancy warning you can help drive this change. This is not about the label itself, but the bureaucratic stubbornness around colours and the huge cost implications.
With the industry reeling from the impacts of a devastating bushfire season and the COVID-19 lockdown, this huge cost may well prove too much for many small businesses and that has to be of concern to politicians. Small winemakers, distillers and brewers may disappear if this decision goes ahead.
As Tony Battaglene of Australian Grape & Wine (AGW) said recently, the association supports mandatory pregnancy labels that raise awareness about not drinking during pregnancy, but not labels that will unnecessarily target more than two thousand small wine businesses across Australia.
“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.
AGW estimates that if contrasting colours were used instead of the three proposed mandatory colours, wine businesses would save around 35 per cent 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,” said Battaglene.
To have your say and help make a difference go to the Not This Label website and complete your details to send an email. You can add further weight by calling your local MP or Food Forum Minister to make sure your voice is heard and to make sure the bureaucrats do not get away with this unnecessary, damaging and costly stubbornness.