18 Jul 2020

Pregnancy warning labels to be mandatory on all alcohol products

2:18 pm on 18 July 2020

Alcohol companies are being forced to put health warnings on their products about the dangers of drinking while pregnant.

Generic pregnant woman drinking alcohol.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Australian health ministers and New Zealand's Food Safety Minister, Damien O'Connor, have voted in favour of the labels, with companies having three years to implement the changes.

O'Connor said hundreds of babies are born each year with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

"There's now conclusive scientific evidence that says it does affect the foetus and it does affect children born with lifetime consequences."

He said the labelling has been inconsistent but the new law will make it standard.

The move was agreed to at yesterday's meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation, he said.

"The decisions that were taken yesterday were to include a red label that said pregnancy warning, to ensure we committed to a consistent size and that we gave certainty to the industry with a three year lead-in time."

O'Connor said manufacturers will have to include a small label on the back of each bottle.

He said the government is not trying to stop people enjoying alcohol, but there are dangers during pregnancy.

"There are some effects from drinking alcohol while pregnant and it's only fair that there should be warnings for those people who might be consuming ... Some countries already insist upon labelling and have consistent standards, New Zealand and Australia will now match up to that."

The Ministry of Health estimates that between 3 and 5 percent of school aged children are affected by FASD and 30,000 children and young people may have some degree of the disorder.

Dr Nicki Jackson from Alcohol Healthwatch said they first campaigned for the warning labels 20 years ago and while they are happy with the decision, giving companies three years to act, is too long.

She said the move has been a long time coming.

"It's been 20 years and it's been 20 years of families living with FASD and struggling and continuously struggling, so this win is really for them and for future families growing up in New Zealand and Australia."

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