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Australian Panel Recommends Warning Labels for Alcohol

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The Australian government should put warning labels on alcohol in conjunction with a broad public health campaign addressing alcohol use, according to an advisory panel, The Age reported Jan. 29.

Dr. Neal Blewett, a former health minister, led the panel of experts reviewing the issue. According to The Age, the panel recommended text warnings, like “Alcohol can damage your health” and “Drinking to excess is a danger to yourself and those around you.”

The panel strongly supported warnings on the danger of drinking while pregnant. It said that not having such warnings on labels and at retail locations was “a glaring omission,” given that information about fetal alcohol syndrome was widely available at medical clinics. 

The panel said the warning labels alone were not enough to change consumer behavior and “could be justified” only if they were implemented along with a public health campaign on alcohol health risks.

Blewett said, “It would be unfair to put on the liquor industry the sole responsibility for changing Australia's alcohol habits.”

According to Todd Harper of The Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, a public health advocacy organization, warning labels are already required on alcohol packaging in 43 countries. “It's time Australia caught up with the rest of the world,'' he said.

Stephen Strachan, chief executive of the Winemaker's Federation of Australia, called the labeling proposal “a weak response.”

He said, “It's an argument led by public health advocates who see it as an opportunity to try out something that might work, and our businesses are the laboratories.”

Yet Lion Nathan, maker of wine, beer, and spirits, said it would ''voluntarily adopt consumer health messages that support responsible drinking choices, including during pregnancy” no matter what the government decided.

A spokesperson said the government would respond to the report's recommendations by the end of the year. 

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