Warning: Don’t take these labels to dinner!

Last week,  ‘The Australian’ published an article on the submission by the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia on potential wine labelling reviews and today the Medical Journal of Australia reports that about 80% of women drinking during pregnancy according to Rosanna Ryan from the ABC.   There has certainly been plenty of debate in the past on the government’s approach to warning women about the risks associated with alcohol and pregnancy, with a focus on FAS (Foetal Alcohol Syndrome).   It seems the government is keen on taking a ‘cigarette packet’ style approach to get this message across – not only heavy handed but very ugly & not something I would like to have sitting on the table while I am trying to eat.  There may as well be a warning on the label that ‘the graphic nature of this label may cause queasiness & discomfort’!  Surely, the focus should be on other avenues of raising awareness that are more effective with less potential to be ignored.

Let’s hope that the government is playing a devil’s advocate role with this suggestion because, if this is going to be one of their main thrusts to educate women about these very real risks it certainly leaves me unimpressed.  While I understand that there is still little known about FAS, the lack of concrete evidence about how much alcohol can adversely effect a foetus is just plain confusing.  Having been in the position of having to decide whether to imbibe or not and if so, how much, in the not-so-distant past myself – it is not so cut and dried a decision, but certainly having a warning on the bottle would have had absolutely no impact at all.

“It’s a lot easier to say quite definitively that smoking harms your baby, on the current evidence, than it is to say small amounts of alcohol harms your baby,” Jennifer Powers from the University of Newcastle research team said in the report published by the Medical Journal. “It’s clear heavy alcohol consumption harms your baby. It’s still not clear with regards to lower amounts of alcohol. And that puts everybody into a very awkward position.”

Obviously, the key to alerting women to the risk is through education. After all, many pregnant women know to stay away from unpasteurised cheese, raw seafood, excesses of tinned fish and of course – smoking! I do not see any plans for the government to have tobacco style graphic warnings for these products – except for the ciggies of course! And, to quote from the Winemaker’s Federation of Australia’s submission, ‘The Australian Government didn’t force people to have their genitalia tattooed with a warning label’ to change the behaviour towards safer sex.

Are label warnings even heeded?  Or do they make the act of indulging in that particular habit seem more ‘dangerous’ and exciting? Or guilty and something to be hidden? The WFA’s submission points out ‘Considering that there wouldn’t be an Australian who doesn’t already realise the implications of driving whilst intoxicated as a result of highly successful public awareness campaigns, it is quite unclear how the addition of a warning label will somehow stop an idiot getting in their car and driving whilst intoxicated.’

The WFA has indicated that it would be in favour of a discreet warning on the label, which is very appropriate for the task.  The question needs to be asked, why would and should consumers tolerate graphic warnings on their wine labels when the warning is not a blanket warning to all consumers unlike tobacco? Why penalise the wine producers when there are reports that wine can be beneficial to your health if you drink it in moderation.

Note: Wine Muse recommends that all wine drinkers follow government guidelines for the intake of alcohol suitable for your situation.  (I made the decision to abstain from drinking alcohol during pregnancy and breastfeeding based on my own research and despite the guidelines at the time)

To see the full articles:

Women drinking during pregnancy, despite warnings (ABC, 21st June 2010)

Wine makers are unhappy with what they see as ‘ugly’ health warnings (The Australian, 17th June 2010)

Winemakers’ Federation of Australia

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2 Responses to Warning: Don’t take these labels to dinner!

  1. Edward says:

    Whilst excessive alcohol can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome which is a preventable tragedy, it is not at all clear to me that having 1 drink every so often in pregnancy – say a glass of wine once or twice a week, is associated with harm. The labelling seems to suggest that any level of consumption in pregnancy is problemtatic and I don’t think this is supported by the evidence.

  2. admin says:

    You are right Edward, I cannot see how the government can introduce such dramatic measures as the tobacco style labelling Edward just for these reasons. While I am all for raising the awareness and increasing the education about the risks associated with drinking whilst pregnant, why introduce labelling that is going to negatively effect other members of the population for whom wine in moderation can be beneficial. Talk about counterproductive. But I have enjoyed reading some of the comments in the submission…..

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