Push to tag booze with health alert

REBECCA TODD
Last updated 05:00 31/01/2011

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A warning that alcohol is bad for you will appear on glitzy liquor and wine labels if proposals for trans-Tasman food labelling laws are adopted.

An alcohol warning is one of many proposals made by an independent panel, commissioned by the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council.

The panel also recommends fast-food outlets highlight the calorie counts of their burgers, chips and other foods.

In a newly released report, Labelling Logic, the panel has recommended that generic warnings such as "Alcohol can damage your health" be mandatory on all alcohol. Warnings about the danger of drinking while pregnant would be on individual containers and at the point of sale. Alcoholic drinks would also have to have the calorie content of the drink on their labels.

The labels would be part of a "comprehensive multifaceted national campaign targeting the public health problems of alcohol in society", the report said.

New Zealand has a joint food standards code with Australia so any changes would have to be agreed by both countries.

In response to the report, brewer Lion Nathan promised to "voluntarily adopt consumer health messages that support responsible drinking choices, including during pregnancy".

National Addiction Centre director Doug Sellman welcomed Lion Nathan's decision and the recommendations.

Evidence showed health warnings on alcohol affected people's choices, he said. They were needed to counteract the "misleading and deceptive messages" the liquor industry put out through advertising.

He feared the recommendations could be ignored by the Government, just as it had failed to act on key recommendations in the Law Commission's alcohol review.

The Australasian expert panel, which visited Christchurch last March, recommended the nutritional value of fast food be displayed on menu boards and advocated a voluntary traffic-light labelling system for food.

Green would identify food as healthy, amber as less healthy and red the least healthy.

Although voluntary at first, the system would be mandatory where health claims were made.

Canterbury Community and Public Health nutritionist Janne Pasco said people would be "astounded" to see the calorie content of fast food.

Britain had adopted the traffic-light system and had seen a marked increase in sales of healthier products and a decrease in sales of the less healthy.

"I really believe it's probably the only way that people can make an informed and healthy choice," she said.

New Zealand Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said she was disappointed by some of the recommendations in the report which were "impractical, costly and evidence-light".

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Green Party MP Sue Kedgley said the Government needed to urgently implement the recommendations.

- The Press

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