Australian drinkers will be warned “alcohol can cause lifelong harm to your baby” under a new mandatory labelling scheme approved by the regulator, unless state and federal ministers veto the plan.

The alcohol lobby hit back at the “short-sighted” decision by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), while public health advocates said it was a “hugely significant step”.

The newly approved label for bottles larger than 200ml also includes the words “health warning” in red, bold capital letters and a pictogram of a silhouette of pregnant woman drinking with a red strike-through. Alcohol bottles up to 200ml would display the pictogram only.

“This decision is a bitter disappointment,” Alcohol Beverages Australia chief executive Andrew Wilsmore said after the 129-page ruling was published on Monday.

He called on food ministers, who have 60 days to decide whether to follow FSANZ’s advice, to “reject the label proposed by bureaucrats” and instead make the industry’s voluntary “DrinkWise” label mandatory.

Public health advocates have complained drinkers do not notice the DrinkWise label – which does not include a written warning and directs consumers to a website funded by the alcohol industry – due to its placement and design.

Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education director of policy and research Trish Hepworth welcomed the FSANZ decision, which she said had come after eight years of “obstruction” by the alcohol industry.

“This hugely significant step will help protect future generations of Australians,” Ms Hepworth said. “Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a serious issue.”

Many women were still unaware of the risks of drinking during pregnancy, which could include fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, low birth weight, miscarriage and stillbirth, she said.

The latest official data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016 showed 25 per cent of women consumed alcohol after becoming aware they were pregnant, while 49 per cent drank before finding out they were pregnant. (Read more…)