An Open Letter to the Ministers of the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum for Food Regulation (The Forum) on their pending pregnancy health warning decision
In recognition of the serious and lifelong harms from prenatal alcohol exposure, we, the undersigned, call on you to mandate the effective health warning label (shown above) that has been carefully developed with the expertise within Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
Every child has the right to reach their full potential. Current and future generations are counting on you; they deserve best practice labelling. This means a visible, consistent and clear health warning label. Your voting in favour of the evidence-based label will leave behind an incredible legacy and also contribute to honouring the lives of countless Australians and New Zealanders that have been harmed to date.
We recognise that the Forum has requested a review of the evidence underpinning the best practice label that has been proposed by FSANZ. Concerns have been raised about the inclusion of red ink in the design as well as the proposed signal wording “HEALTH WARNING”. It has been perceived that these design factors, shown in research to increase consumer attention, may place an undue burden on the alcohol industry. We assert that weakening such aspects of the label would jeopardise health literacy for consumers in both countries and fail to achieve the Forum’s stated aim to “maximise the effectiveness of food safety communication.” The inclusion of the colour red and the signal header clearly aligns with the Forum’s own principles and criteria “That information on food labels be presented in a clear and comprehensible manner to enhance understanding across all levels of the population.”
A decision to accept less than best practice is not just a matter of concern for the citizens of Australia, it has consequences for generations of New Zealanders. We commend, and are grateful to the New Zealand Minister for Food Safety Hon Damien O’Connor who, along with other Forum Ministers, have endorsed the best practice label that includes the red colour and signal wording. In New Zealand, we exercise our public health obligations through the Treaty of Waitangi (between the Crown and Māori), and share in common with Australia the commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, along with other important Human Rights instruments. Today, ethnic inequities in the harms from prenatal alcohol exposure remain pronounced, and preventable. Action taken to reduce harm can enable our respective countries to be healthier as well as fairer.
In the last decade, consumers have endured misinformation and the minimisation of this health message as a result of abdicating the responsibility to the alcohol industry. We ask that you set a far higher standard so that the next generation are not burdened with the health and social costs arising from ineffectual prevention efforts. Our team of five million in Aotearoa New Zealand is counting on you.