Wine industry responds to mandatory pregnancy labels

Wednesday, 19 February, 2020

Wine industry responds to mandatory pregnancy labels

In October 2018, the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation (the Forum) asked Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to consider mandatory pregnancy warning labelling, with the label featuring an image and an accompanying warning statement about the risks of consuming alcohol while pregnant. Pregnancy warning labels have been featured on packaging for alcohol since 2011 in Australia and New Zealand, on a voluntary basis.

On 17 February 2020, FSANZ approved an amendment to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code), requiring a pregnancy warning label on alcohol sold across Australia and New Zealand. FSANZ also released a draft label for alcohol featuring a health warning. This has drawn criticism from Australian Grape & Wine, a supporter of the existing voluntary labelling arrangements and industry initiatives. Australian Grape & Wine has urged the Ministerial Forum to reject the approval of the label. If approved, the new warning label will be mandatory for all bottles of alcohol over 200 millilitres.

“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 position. But given they can’t, why are Ministers being asked to consider a design that will be costly to businesses, but achieve very little?” said Tony Battaglene, Chief Executive of Australian Grape & Wine.

The costs to Australian wine businesses will be felt by small, family-owned businesses in rural and regional Australia. Most wine businesses have multiple wines in their portfolio; redesigning labels for each of these products could lead to considerable costs for the wine industry.

“This pregnancy warning label is a classic example of bureaucratic over-reach, and is not a good example of science-based decision-making. Our concerns extend beyond simply the costs to grape and wine businesses, though they will be significant. 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,” Battaglene said.

Australian Grape & Wine is urging Ministers to reconsider a label that will maintain the positive trends in drinking during pregnancy in Australia, while reducing the costs and risks to wine businesses. Australian Grape & Wine recommends mandating the current voluntary pregnancy warning label as the correct approach.

“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,” Battaglene said.

More information about the mandatory pregnancy warning labels can be found on the FSANZ website.

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