Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Last-ditch bid to limit alcopops

An alcohol lobbyist says the industry is "pleased" to be free to set its own limits on RTD alcohol content. Picture / Natalie Slade
An alcohol lobbyist says the industry is "pleased" to be free to set its own limits on RTD alcohol content. Picture / Natalie Slade

Labour tables more amendments as Parliament prepares for final reading of contentious legislation

The Labour Party will make a last-ditch attempt to introduce strict limits on the sale of sweetened alcoholic drinks after the National-led Government backed down on its plan to ban high-strength alcopops.

MP Phil Goff has proposed changing alcohol laws to make it illegal to sell RTD (ready to drink) products with more than 5 per cent alcohol content or more than 1.5 standard drinks per bottle.

He said yesterday: "We've got a massive problem with teenage binge-drinking. And this stuff is so sweet that it masks the alcohol taste and people drink it like soft drinks. It's marketed to look like soft drinks."

He has tabled the amendment as Parliament prepares for the final reading of the bill, which could begin next week.

When the legislation was introduced in 2010, former Justice Minister Simon Power proposed giving power to the Government to regulate the alcohol content in RTDs. He recommended a ceiling of 5 per cent and 1.5 standard drinks per bottle - the same limits Mr Goff has proposed.

After the select committee stage, Justice Minister Judith Collins suggested raising the limit to 6 per cent, and only in off-licence sales.

On Wednesday Mrs Collins announced that the regulation of RTDs would instead be left to the industry but Government would be given regulatory powers to step in at any time in the future.

Mr Goff's amendment would go one step further than Mr Power's proposal by putting the new limits directly into the bill.

Some sections of the alcohol industry said they already self-regulate with a limit of two standard drinks per bottle - the equivalent of 8 per cent alcohol content.

Mr Goff felt this limit was too high, and the voluntary code had not prevented some companies from selling pre-mixed drinks with up to 20 per cent alcohol content.

Alcohol industry lobbyist Mark Unsworth said the industry had been considering a comprehensive code for about two years, but it had not settled on a ceiling for alcohol content in RTDs.

He said it would be difficult to guarantee 100 per cent compliance from the industry but the threat of Government interference should motivate companies to get it right.

"The industry is pleased to have the opportunity and understands that it comes with a responsibility to do it properly and come up with something sensible. They know that the minister will be following it closely."

The Law Commission has suggested that targeting RTDs might not work because the liquor industry could create alternatives, or young people might switch to spirits.

Mr Goff said his amendment would not have these consequences because lower-strength RTDs could still remain on the market.

Labour MPs proposed 10 further amendments to the bill earlier this week.

But the Ministry of Justice has advised Mrs Collins not to support any of the changes proposed by Labour, Greens, and Maori Party MPs.

Mrs Collins argued yesterday that restricting RTDs would breach international trade obligations.

"As a former Trade Minister, Mr Goff well knows this kind of wholesale restriction would put us in breach of our Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement and other trade treaties."

- NZ Herald

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