Strong warning labels should be placed on all beer, wine and spirits as part of a plan to stop pregnant mothers from drinking, MPs say.

The parliamentary health committee, in a special report on improving children's health outcomes published yesterday, urged the liquor industry to place "unequivocal" warnings on its products.

It is one of a series of recommendations which are designed to reduce the rate of fetal Alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

The inquiry said data on alcohol-related disorders in pregnancy was limited but as many as 3000 babies a year could be born with one.


While major alcohol-related defects in children were easily detected, more subtle behavioural impairments such as difficulty with reading or writing were harder to pick up.

MPs said voluntary labelling was preferred, but regulation could be necessary in future.

Many large beer companies in New Zealand are already placing warnings on their products in response to an agreement between New Zealand and Australian authorities.

The warnings say: "It is safest not to drink while pregnant."

The committee said that alcohol products should have an unequivocal warning which said, at minimum: "Alcohol causes brain damage to the unborn child."

The Brewers Association said beer labels should not be seen as a single solution for increasing awareness about the risks of consuming alcohol. It was the responsibility not only of the industry but also of doctors, communities, schools and retailers, it said.

The MPs also made some bold recommendations which went against government policy, such as considering a higher excise tax on alcohol in the long term. It also proposed a comprehensive review of alcohol sales and pricing data in relation to teenage binge drinking.

Both these changes were recommended by the Law Commission in its landmark review of alcohol laws, but were not adopted in reforms that were passed a year ago.