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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!

Caterina Giorgi

Caterina Giorgi

Caterina is the Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education.

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