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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 175

Senator Allison asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, upon notice, on 11 November 2004:

(1)   Is the Minister aware that Canada is joining New Zealand, the United Kingdom and France in introducing mandatory warnings on all alcoholic beverages similar to those that are currently used in the United States of America and Japan.

(2)   Given that the long-term effects of irresponsible alcohol use include chronic health problems, alcoholic dependence, unemployment, family breakdown, and homelessness and the short-term effects include loss of control and intoxication contributing to road trauma, public violence, domestic violence, falls, accidents operating machinery, increased sexual vulnerability and unwanted pregnancies; what plans does the Government have to investigate the efficacy of introducing improved consumer information labelling on alcoholic beverages in Australia.

Senator Patterson (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women Issues) —The Minister for Health and Ageing has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(1)   No. The Department of Health and Ageing understands that the information within this question may be incorrect.         Australia and New Zealand have a joint Food Standards system. Currently there is no requirement in Australia or New Zealand for alcohol beverages to be labelled with a mandatory warning statement.

(2)   The Australia New Zealand Joint Food Standards Code requires that all alcoholic beverages are labelled with a statement of alcohol content (i.e. X% alcohol by volume) and a statement of the approximate number of standard drinks this equates to. These provisions were adopted as part of the review of Food Standard Code in 2002.

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, or its predecessors, have considered the issue of additional warning labels on alcohol products twice in the past. On those previous occasions the decision was made that there was inadequate evidence for the introduction of such additional warnings.

There is no international consensus on the effectiveness of warning statements on alcoholic beverages in changing behaviour in ‘at risk’ groups.

Public health strategies aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm are already being implemented in Australia.

The Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy (MCDS) at its meeting of 12 November 2004 has agreed to write to the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council requesting that:

   -       alcoholic beverages are more clearly labelled as alcoholic drinks; and

   -       that the number of standard drinks contained in a beverage are more prominently marked on the container in a standard, easy to read format.

These matters will be considered by Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council once a formal request is received.