Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the regulator responsible for developing food standards for Australia and New Zealand, is seeking to replace the current voluntary scheme with mandatory pregnancy warning labels on packaged alcoholic beverages.
Ministers responsible for food regulation have been given 60 days from 17 February 2020 to elect whether to request a review of FSANZ's decision to amend the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code).
A voluntary pregnancy warning labelling scheme has been in place since 2011, but in the light of evaluations in 2014 and 2017, the body responsible for overseeing FSANZ has proposed the development of a mandatory labelling standard that includes the following pictogram and warning statement:
Exposure of the fetus to alcohol during pregnancy can result in a preventable condition called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), yet available data suggests that approximately 25% of women in Australia and 20% of women in New Zealand continue to consume alcohol while pregnant.
The FSANZ report issued last week indicates that implementing a mandatory scheme will support behaviour change by raising awareness of the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy and prompting discussion of these risks.
The proposed regime takes into account the results of consumer surveys which targeted women of child-bearing age in an effort to maximise consumer awareness. If the amendment to the Code is implemented, the label will become mandatory on bottles of more than 200 millilitres in volume and in excess of 1.15% alcohol content.
There have been mixed reactions to the proposal. Unsurprisingly, it has been welcomed by the health industry (including the Public Health Association of Australia), but has been met with some resistance from the wine industry - particularly small and regional wineries that are already struggling with overheads and say the cost of printing the new labels will be prohibitive.
If the Ministers do not request a review of the proposal within 60 days of notification, the new regime will become law and interested parties will be notified.