Alcohol warning labels shunned by industry despite research

THE alcohol industry is putting ''booze before babies'' by making false and misleading claims to a parliamentary inquiry into fetal alcohol disorders, a publicly-funded research body says.

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education has accused the industry of unfounded ''scare-mongering'' in claiming to the inquiry that fetal alcohol warning labels urging women against drinking during pregnancy could lead to anxiety and terminations.

The foundation says its detailed analysis of four alcohol industry bodies' submissions to the House of Representatives committee inquiry into fetal alcohol spectrum disorder has identified 10 false or misleading claims concerning the disorder and effectiveness of measures to prevent it.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is estimated to leave 2600 Australian newborns a year with disabilities ranging from brain and facial defects to behavioural problems.

Two of the industry submissions suggested current scattered and voluntary measures to prevent the disorder were sufficient, Michael Thorn, the chief executive of the foundation, said.

The brewers, winemakers and distillers were ''so hell-bent on putting profit ahead of public health that [they are] prepared to bend or even disregard the truth completely''.

''The alcohol industry wishes to propagate the myth that it is somehow risky to ensure consumers are appropriately informed of the potential harms from its product,'' Mr Thorn said.

''The truth … is the risk they are really concerned about is to their own bottom line.''

In their submissions, the Winemakers Federation, the Brewers Association, the Distilled Spirits Industry Council and the Australian Wine Research Institute raise a range of negative responses to preventive measures.

The industry groups questioned the need and effectiveness of mandatory warnings, cited statistics for the disorder which the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education said were outdated or underestimated, argued that the industry's voluntary ''DrinkWise'' campaign was raising awareness and criticised mandatory labels when, they said, most people drank responsibly ''with few negative consequences''.

The Winemakers Federation said that if the purpose of labelling was to decrease risky alcohol consumption, ''then data from the USA suggests that this purpose will not be met''.

The foundation says studies had shown that alcohol consumption among pregnant women in Canada (15 per cent) and the US (10 per cent) which both had warning labels, was much lower than in countries without, such as Australia where a government survey showed 19.5 per cent of pregnant women continued drinking.

The Greens health spokesman, Richard Di Natale, said the industry's response was appalling and was putting profits before reasonable measures to reduce risky drinking.

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