Alcohol labelling

12 May 2020

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:18): My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck, as chair of the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation. Minister, I refer you to your recent letter to me regarding the forum's decision to ask FSANZ to revise its proposal for mandatory pregnancy warning labels on packaged alcohol. In your letter you claim: 'The FSANZ proposal places an unreasonable cost burden on the alcohol industry.' FSANZ's cost-benefit analysis says each new case of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder costs at least $13,847 a year in health and disability costs alone, which equates to a projected annual cost of over $3 million each and every year for new cases, yet the one-off cost to industry is just $4,924 per product. Minister, are lives or alcohol industry profits more important to government?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Aged Care and Senior Australians and Minister for Youth and Sport) (14:19): I thank the senator for his question. The decision that I wrote to you about in response to your correspondence was a decision made by ministers of all states, territories and the New Zealand government with respect to the report provided to food ministers into the labelling of alcohol and pregnancy warning labels. It was considered by all of those ministers, and a majority of states and territories at that forum voted to review the recommendations that have been put forward. I might add that all governments sitting around the table are committed to compulsory warning labels on alcohol receptacles. That decision will be made very soon. We've asked for FSANZ to come back to the committee with a report within 12 weeks of the last meeting, which is, from recollection, some time in June.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Griff, a supplementary question?

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:20): Minister, your letter also mentioned that FSANZ is being asked to review the colour of the warning label. FSANZ elected to use red because 'evidence indicates red increases the speed of identification and level of attention the warning receives'. Minister, why does the government or the respective state governments have an issue with using red on a warning label, given FSANZ's evidence based reasons for using it?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Aged Care and Senior Australians and Minister for Youth and Sport) (14:21): The evidence presented in FSANZ's report also talked about the importance of contrast on labels, and in some circumstances red, quite frankly, just isn't practical. The point that the senator made in his primary question with respect to costs was one of the considerations that was part of that process as well. But I can say quite categorically that the importance of pregnancy warning labels is such that it needs to be visible on a label, and in that context contrast is important and a red symbol on a red label simply won't work. One of the concerns that we had was that there is appropriate contrast of the symbol on the label, and that's one of the things that food ministers asked FSANZ to reconsider as a part of our decision-making process. And, as I said, the report is to come back to the food ministers' meeting within 12 weeks of— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Griff, a final supplementary question?

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:22): Minister, you stated that you are committed, and everyone is committed, to mandatory pregnancy warning labels. If the revised proposal that comes back within 12 weeks from FSANZ puts forward essentially the same recommendation as in the original proposal, will you accept it?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Aged Care and Senior Australians and Minister for Youth and Sport) (14:22): That is in fact quite a hypothetical. We've asked FSANZ to review the report that it provided to us. We've pointed to two particular issues that we wanted FSANZ to reconsider. My conversations with them indicate that they are considering that work. We've asked them to report back to us within 12 weeks so that we can reconsider it. Hopefully, we'll be in a situation whereby later this year we will have a decision to have mandatory pregnancy warning labels on alcohol receptacles within a period of time.

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