Fetal harm warnings likely for alcohol labels

By Martin Johnston

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

Alcoholic drinks in New Zealand and Australia could soon carry health warnings aimed at pregnant women and their unborn babies.

The Australian Government indicated this week that it will aim for compulsory warnings in two years as part of a transtasman agreement on food labelling standards.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said food manufacturers would also have to meet tougher standards before they could make health claims such as "low fat" and "high fibre" on their products.

However she rejected a proposal for "traffic light" labels on the front of packets, which would tell shoppers at a glance if the food was green (everyday), orange (sometimes) or red (occasional), based on its levels of sugar, salt and fat.

New Zealand Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson has refused to say whether her Government supports the traffic light system - which was recommended in January by a sweeping review of food labelling - ahead of a meeting of the 10-member transtasman council of food ministers on Friday.

But food campaigner and former Green MP Sue Kedgley said it appeared likely most of the report's recommendations were doomed, except the proposal to require alcohol carry a warning against consumption during pregnancy, because of the risk of harm to the fetus.

"I'm incredulous that they would chuck these recommendations out. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve our inadequate food labels."

New Zealand public health specialists say traffic light labels would force manufacturers of many red-dot foods to convert to recipes with less saturated fat, salt and sugar, to avoid a consumer backlash.

Other recommendations in the report by former Australian Health Minister Neal Blewett include encouraging McDonald's and other chain restaurants to put the traffic light labels on menus and requiring palm oil to be disclosed on food labels rather than being disguised in many foods as "vegetable oil".

Ms Wilkinson's spokesman has said she sees merit in some of the review's recommendations, "but is wary of any measures that could see increased costs forced on to consumers".

Ms Roxon told Australian media there was insufficient evidence to show that any front-of-pack labelling, including the traffic light system, provided the information consumers needed to make informed choices.

- NZ Herald

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