Greens push for alcohol warnings

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The federal government should disassociate itself from international objections to a Thai plan to introduce mandatory health warning labels on alcohol bottles, the Greens say.

Australia is one of a group of countries that have repeatedly raised concerns at the World Trade Organisation about a proposal by the government of Thailand to mandate health warnings on alcoholic beverages sold in its country.

The WTO is also being used as a forum by some countries to challenge Australia's tobacco plain packaging laws.

Greens health spokesman Richard Di Natale said Australia should be following the example of Thailand and introducing compulsory health warnings on alcohol bottles instead of questioning the move. ''It's a huge public issue and unfortunately what we've got in Australia is industry labelling that is being driven by industry perspectives, rather than by public health perspectives,'' Senator Di Natale said.

''I just think there's huge hypocrisy in terms of what we're doing to try and undermine public health efforts overseas around alcohol. And the tobacco industry's employing the same tactics against us.''

In November last year, the Thai government announced it would appoint a committee to review the warning labels law in response to the concerns raised in the WTO's Technical Barriers to Trade Committee.


The minutes of the committee's June 2010 meeting show a United States representative said his government had difficulties understanding the scientific and technical basis for the warnings.

The minutes said he also expressed his delegation's ''concern that proposed labelling requirements could interfere with legitimate trademarks on the bottle, as well as the display of useful information on product labels, including information that was necessary to distinguish one product from another''.

The minutes said Australia ''shared the concerns of other members''.

Senator Di Natale said warning labels developed by the Australian alcohol industry for the domestic market were not sufficient to properly warn women about the danger to unborn babies of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

''It's an undiagnosed epidemic in the country and it is in large part because people are unaware of the harm that alcohol does to the developing foetus,'' he said.

Trade Minister Craig Emerson was travelling overseas yesterday and was not available to comment, but a spokeswoman for Mental Health and Ageing Minister Mark Butler said the government would consider mandatory labelling if the industry failed to introduce appropriate labels on a voluntary basis.

''After a period of two years, the government will review the progress that has been made, and then determine whether mandatory labelling is appropriate,'' she said.

''The Australian government knows the importance of raising awareness about the dangers of risky drinking, especially during pregnancy. Labels can help engage the community and better inform people about the risks of excessive alcohol consumption.''