Effective health warning labels

Support clear, visible health warning labels for alcohol products now

Add your name to the growing number of people and organisations supporting this cause.

We all want our families to have access to clear information about the health and safety of the products they buy – especially products that may harm our children. 

Yet, in Australia, alcohol products have never been legally required to carry a health warning about the risks alcohol can cause to babies during pregnancy including stillbirth, miscarriage, and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).   

To help address this, an effective and evidence-based alcohol health warning label was developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and discussed at the Forum on Food Regulation (FoFR) meeting on 20 March 2020.

At the meeting, Food Forum Ministers did not support the effective warning — instead requesting FSANZ consider changes to the colour and warning text. Both these elements are critical to ensuring that the label is effective, visible and easily understood.

Watering down the label through changes to its colour, size or wording, would be risking the health and wellbeing of thousands of Australians for years to come.

Ministers will meet again on 17 July to finally decide whether to support a health warning label for alcohol products that has been carefully designed by FSANZ, which will hopefully include the key features that are required to make the label effective — such as using the words ‘health warning’ and ensuring it has contrasting, identifiable colours (red, white and black) used consistently across all products.

Community calling for action

Hear from people in the community who know first-hand the life-long, devastating harm alcohol can cause to unborn babies, and why we need effective health warning labels on alcohol products. Help share their stories and this important message by posting these to your social media and sharing with colleagues, family and friends.

Information and evidence

Why do we need an effective health warning label?

The draft Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol are clear that no amount of alcohol is safe to consume during pregnancy.

Yet many Australians remain unaware that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can have devastating effects on the unborn baby including miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight, pre-term birth and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

A statistically representative survey in 2020 found that:

  • Almost a quarter (23%) of Australians aren’t aware that drinking alcohol when pregnant is harmful to an unborn baby.
  • Less than a third (31%) of Australians recall seeing warning labels on alcohol products about the risk of drinking alcohol when pregnant.

This lack of awareness in the community means that one in four Australian women continue to drink alcohol after finding out they are pregnant. This amounts to alcohol exposed pregnancies in Australia every year.

Will a health warning label make a difference?

An effective health warning label on alcohol products is a small thing that can make a big difference.

A well-designed, effective warning label can change behaviour. This was demonstrated recently in a real-world trial which compared alcohol consumption in neighboring regions in Canada – one with alcohol health warning labels and one without.

It found a statistically significant decrease in alcohol consumption in the region with the warning labels. This research is particularly strong because it is a real-world experiment conducted in the general population.

An effective health warning label that clearly informs the community about the need to avoid alcohol during pregnancy would result in fewer miscarriages and stillbirths, and would help put a stop to the thousands of Australian children being born with FASD — the leading preventable developmental disability in Australia.

What does an effective health warning label look like?

For a warning to be effective it needs to be seen, understood and perceived as a warning.

Australia’s independent statutory body for food standards across Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) has recommended the use of a vital combination of a pictogram, signal words, colour and warning statement to enhance the noticeability and credibility of health warning labels on alcoholic products.  

This warning label was produced by experts, precisely because the alcohol industry’s own labels were ineffective – too small, too camouflaged, too confusing and not perceived as a warning.

Research and consumer testing outlined by FSANZ shows that:

  • White as a contrast background is crucial to the warning being seen
  • The new warning text is essential to the key message being understood
  • ‘Health warning’ and the colour red are central to the warning being perceived as a warning

People do not search for warnings – they must be presented in a way that is likely to attract attention in order to achieve their purpose.

Is there support for a health warning label?

The majority of Australians (70 per cent) want an effective health warning label that is highly noticeable and easy to understand.

The Australian community deserves an effective alcohol health warning label that people will easily notice and understand. This is not something that families with experience of FASD – or the broader Australian community – should be expected to compromise on.