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Food Safety Minister Damien O’Connor made the announcement this evening, following a vote at the Australia-New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation in Adelaide today.
“While the alcohol industry has been voluntarily including warnings on some products for the past six years, there is no consistency in the type, colour, size and design, reducing the effectiveness of the message,” O’Connor said.
“Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of pregnancy complications and can cause permanent damage to the brain and body of the developing foetus.
“There has been strong and sound support from a range of groups calling for mandatory labelling, and I’m pleased today we were able to take this step.”
Research led by University of Auckland Professor Chris Bullen and published this year showed that 23 percent or women drank alcohol during the early stages of their pregnancies, while 13 percent drank alcohol after their first trimester.
Several groups have been calling for mandatory warning labels, including Alcohol Healthwatch, the New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation, and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
But the alcohol industry has fought the move, saying the current voluntary regime is sufficient because most alcohol companies already used warning labels.
O’Connor said mandatory labelling would strengthen the Government’s wider programme to change drinking behaviour among pregnant women.
“Hundreds of babies a year are born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder because of exposure to alcohol in the womb. We need to take every action to reduce this harm.”
Food Standards Australia New Zealand will develop the appropriate standard to bring it back to the forum for approval.
The forum noted the efforts of a large segment of the sector in voluntarily using pregnancy warning labels. It called for comprehensive consultation and a suitable transition timeline before the mandatory regime comes into effect.