Brewers’ claims about alcohol warning labels

Every now and then the alcohol industry, in its many forms, makes an announcement indicating that they are very concerned about alcohol-related harms and are trying to tackle this issue the best they can.

The announcement made by the Brewers Association last Friday followed this well-trodden path.

In a media release from the Brewers ‘Industry well ahead on pregnancy labelling’, the claim was made that ‘Approximately 90 per cent of containers, produced and distributed in Australia by our members already include a pregnancy message on a label’.

No one was more surprised to see these results than I was.

Only this time last year, FARE commissioned an audit of alcohol products in Australia and found that 30 per cent of beer or cider products had a Drinkwise consumer information label on them. (Drinkwise is an industry front organisation and their labels include ambiguous messages such as ‘Kids and alcohol don’t mix’, ‘get the facts’, It’s safest not to drink while pregnant’ or a silhouette of a pregnant woman in a circle with a line throughout the image).

When looking just at the pregnancy messages, which are the message that the Brewers claim to have on 90 per cent of their products, the audit found that only three per cent of beer and cider labels carried either the pregnancy text or silhouette.

The audit carried out last year also showed that the labels were small – with 98 percent of the Drinkwise consumer information labels taking up less than five per cent of the alcohol label or face of the packaging on which they were located. This is not surprising given that the industry’s own guidelines for application of the messages specify that the pregnancy messages be eight millimetres in height (this makes even the barcode look big).

It is important to note that the audit was undertaken one year ago. So it could very well be that the Brewers have progressed their labelling regime very quickly over the course of the last year.

If this is the case – then we need to be questioning some of the claims that were made by the Brewers as part of a joint submission made to the Food Labelling Review on the cost and time impacts of introducing warning labels.

So let’s take a step back and have a look at what we have here.

What we have is an industry-led labelling regime that may or may not be on 90 per cent of beer products, is almost invisible and was going to be so hard to roll out that the industry themselves made the point repeatedly that the cost and time to implement such a label would be a significant barrier to reform.

Add to this that the Brewers are so against placing actual warnings on their products that they refuse to even use the word ‘warning’ – instead opting for pregnancy ‘messages’.

The media release by the Brewers ends with the line ‘We look forward to working with relevant agencies on the evaluation of this voluntary initiative which will be undertaken by the Federal Government later this year’.

When the evaluation does take place – I sincerely hope that the Government asks for the evidence to substantiate the claims made by different industry groups before simply taking their word for it.

I’m predicting an independent audit will tell a very different story!

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Caterina Giorgi

Caterina is the Director of Policy and Research at FARE.

This article has 4 comments

  1. Julia Stafford Reply

    It would be a very funny joke that the Drinkwise labels are placed on the bottom of some 6-packs and cartons of beer (where no one would ever look) if it wasn’t such a serious matter. The Drinkwise labels are a real lesson in how to make a label effectively invisible.

  2. Sarah Reply

    People might suspect that the reason for this press release is that the two year timeframe that the alcohol industry was given by the Government to put labels on products is coming to an end and they really don’t want to do anything else, like implement effective labels.

  3. Geoff Reply

    Thanks for the article. Even the US, where in many states the drink driving limit is a very dangerous 0.08, requires warnings to be placed on alcohol products. Many other countries also require warnings on alcohol products. Australia leads the way with plain packaging for cigarettes, but brings up the rear when it comes to alcohol packaging – this casts into high relief the massive hypocrisy in Australia when it comes to alcohol.

    In my view the problem of alcohol will not really begin to be solved until the sale, promotion and distribution is restricted to the same extent as tobacco, and until alcohol use becomes as socially unacceptable as tobacco or other drug use.

    We need to move away from the ‘alcohol is part of Australian society’ mentality towards the view that alcohol just isn’t worth the risk and there are many better things to do with our time and money.

    I therefore have considerable reservations about ‘responsible drinking’ messages. The phrase sounds like something the alcohol industry would come up with. How can any drinking be responsible when the profits will find their way back to the alcohol industry which will in turn use the money to fund ever more irresponsible advertising?

  4. Christi Reply

    It is usually performed after the delivery in pregnant women. The person they see in the glass is not the person they see when they think of themselves.
    Over the years he has treated host of patients and it is by dint of their account that his popularity has spread.

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