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Ministers must support visible health warnings on alcoholic products

July 2020

Australia’s largest non-profit provider of health and aged care services, St Vincent’s Health Australia, has called on Ministers meeting today as part of the Forum on Food Regulation (FoFR) to approve a visible health warning on alcoholic products to highlight the dangers of prenatal alcohol exposure.

St Vincent’s Health – which operates St Vincent’s Hospitals in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane as part of its organisation – said fetal alcohol spectrum disorderwas a major problem in Australia, particularly among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and that it was “well beyond time” for the simple, clear warning to be added to alcoholic products.

St Vincent’s Health Australia CEO, Toby Hall, said the fact there remained any uncertainty around a vote approving the recommended label at today’s meeting showed how pervasive and powerful the alcohol industry was in Australia and New Zealand.

“Every single element of the label proposed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand has been chosen for its effectiveness. Changing any of these elements to appease the alcohol industry would be choosing tocreate a label that won’t work,” said Mr Hall.

“The alcohol industry is fighting hard against an effective health warning because it knows it will work.

“The only thing we can conclude from this is that they don’t want the community knowing about the potential harm of their product to unborn children–and that’s exactly why we need the health warningwithout any further delays.”

In 2018 the FoFR Ministers decided to mandate a health warning on alcoholic products to warn of the dangers of prenatal alcohol exposure. This will replace the voluntary scheme run by the alcohol industry that saw ineffective labels placed on less than half of products.

FSANZ conducted a thorough evidence-based process to develop the label which included a public consultation in 2019. A final label was proposed in February 2020 for Ministerial approval.

However, when FoFR Ministers met in March 2020, they voted by anarrow majority to review the label due to perceived ‘unreasonable cost burden’ on the alcohol industry. This followed intense industry lobbying which used inflated costs and exaggerated accounts of the impact of updating product labels.

A final decision on the warning will be taken by the FoFR Ministers at today’s meeting.

“Big Alcohol’s influence in Australia is insidious and far-reaching. St Vincent’s calls on the Ministers to vote with the health of Australians in mind, not the deep pockets of the alcohol industry,” said Mr Hall.

Media contact: Paul Andrews 0409 665 495

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