Health expert challenges the wine body on pregnancy label

In a response submitted to a Parliamentary inquiry into Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, the Winemakers’ Federation suggested this. In the submission, the Winemakers’ Federation warns that women who only know about the risks of alcohol to their unborn child from the labels are at “great risk.”

In Australia, alcohol labels don’t need to carry a health warning, but there has been a push over the past few years to change this.

According to a survey conducted by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, 61% of Australians are in favor of alcohol warning labels.

In its submission, however, the Federation warns women that when they discover that they are pregnant, “they will immediately review their alcohol intake in the last one to two month… Some expecting mothers may feel so guilty or depressed that it leads them to terminate their pregnancy because of their belief that the fetus is damaged.”

Michael Livingston, Research Fellow at Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre and PhD Student at the University of Melbourne, said that the Federation “more or less advocates not warning pregnant woman about any potential health risks.” Their advice is to withhold information. “They’re acting as if they care about women’s health, which is outrageous and dishonest.”

Stephen Strachan said, however, that using two paragraphs of the submission as a way to describe the “detailed and well-referenced 21-page document where we present for your consideration a wide range of research on the topic of [Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder] and general alcohol consumption” is “so misleading, it’s more like a fabrication than conversation.”

Two paragraphs of one section refer to the question of whether or not pregnancy warning labels may influence decisions made by expecting mothers.

This is not something we made up. The evidence and concerns presented are from sources such as the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG), the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy and researchers who have published in the British Medical Journal and the Public Health Agency in Canada.

We encourage winemakers, in addition to the government, to use the “pregnant women” logo and to work together to improve consumer education.

Mr. Strachan said that the Federation rejects the constant calls for warnings similar to those on cigarettes to be placed on alcohol products “when all evidence suggests they do not work.” The World Health Organisation, as well as leading anti-alcohol Australian researchers commissioned by the Food Standards Authority, found that warning labels do not change behavior.

I know that this statement will be met with a chorus of laughter from our critics. But winemakers care about [Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder] as well as the other effects of excessive alcohol consumption. They regularly support initiatives that are based on evidence and will address the social issue of alcohol abuse.

Mr Livingston stated that there were strong indications that Australians are not informed about the risks associated with drinking. Labels are one way to increase awareness.

He said that there is evidence, mainly from the tobacco industry but also a little bit from overseas on alcohol labels, that they can influence people’s attitudes. “They are a low-cost and unobtrusive tool for health promotion that can reduce harm to our community.”

Richard Di Natale is the Greens’ spokesperson on health. He said that the Winemakers’ Federation’s submission was not sensitive.

Senator Di Natale asked: “Are they saying that doctors should not tell pregnant women that drinking alcohol can harm their child because it could lead to an abortion?” Or should the pregnancy warnings on cigarette packs be removed?

It is important to inform people about the harmful effects of alcohol or other products.

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