Mandatory pregnancy health warnings recommended by FSANZ for alcoholic beverages

The Australian College of Midwives (ACM) strongly supports the message being provided by the requirement for mandatory labelling on alcoholic beverages.  Women need to be clearly informed at all relevant touch points that alcohol can cause lifelong problems for their developing baby as the only way to prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is for a woman to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages during pregnancy.

We believe that labelling is only one of many required initiatives and we welcome the decision by FSANZ to put forward such a considered recommendation.

In October 2018, the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation (the Forum) met and agreed that: “a mandatory labelling standard for pregnancy warning labels on packaged alcoholic beverages should be developed and should include a pictogram and relevant warning statement. The Forum requested Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) develop this mandatory labelling standard as a priority and that the work be completed expeditiously.”

ACM have been actively involved in the consultation and review process alongside organisations such as the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Research Australia Centre for Research Excellence, Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, National Alliance for Action On Alcohol, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Research - Australia Centre for Research Excellence, Telethon Kids Institute, National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, Public Health Advocacy Institute of Western Australia, Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Special Interest Group and the Public Health Association of Australia.

Our previous communications and engagements have included:

  • Senate Inquiry for Effective approaches to prevention, diagnosis and support for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) December 2019 here
  • Review of Draft Standards October 2019 here
  • Public Consultation July 2019 here
  • Update on progress - Consumer testing to commence April 2019 here

On Monday (17 February 2020), FSANZ has advised the public that they have ‘notified Ministers responsible for food regulation of its decision to approve an amendment to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code) to require a pregnancy warning label on packaged alcoholic beverages sold in Australia and New Zealand’… and that…’Ministers have 60 days following notification to either request a review or not of the decision to amend the Food Standards Code.  If a review is not requested, the amendment to the Code will be gazetted in Australia and New Zealand and become law.’

The recommendations by FSANZ have been made after analysis of over 130 submissions by industry, health, government, academics and consumers.  Despite an overwhelming majority of submissions being from Industry (n=83), we are pleased to see that the requirements are comprehensive and balanced and reflect the need to protect the health of the community

In summary, when this is accepted there will be a 2-year transition period after which all new alcoholic beverages that meet the criteria will be required to have the specified warning label.  The elements of the warning label have been very clearly defined to ensure there is no room for misinterpretation.  Specifics include:

  • Clear definition of the words to use, placement, colours and font type and size.
  • Clarity that this is a HEALTH WARNING
  • Inclusion of a specific warning message “Alcohol can cause lifelong harm to your baby”
  • Inclusion of the specific pictogram to be used
  • All beverages with 1.15%ABV or greater
  • Beverages in containers less than 200mL can use the pictogram only

Areas we would like to see expanded upon include the education plans for community and industry in regards to the labelling, the supporting information for consumers and the evaluation of the implementation and monitoring of compliance.

Full details can be found on the FSANZ website. We will update you when we hear more from FSANZ.

If you want to learn more about how to talk to women about their alcohol use during pregnancy or when breastfeeding, check out our free to access online course, developed with FARE: Women Want to Know: pregnancy and Alcohol

Additional information

The Australian College of Midwives (ACM) is the peak professional body for midwives in Australia who are registered with, and regulated by, the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA). ACM’s position is that women have access to midwifery care during pregnancy, birth and postnatally. We exist to ensure midwives are strong and confident practitioners who can work to their full scope of practice.