Open Letter: It’s time for a clear, visible health warning label
Dear Food Forum Ministers meeting 17 July 2020
For families, the most important thing in life is the health and wellbeing of our children.
That’s why it matters to all of us that our families have access to clear information about the health and safety of the products they buy – especially products that may harm our children.
Alcohol can cause brain damage in unborn babies when consumed during pregnancy – a condition known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
Alcohol can also lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight and developmental problems.
Yet these products have never before been legally required to carry a health warning.
Thankfully, that’s about to change.
We are all in agreement that we need a mandatory label. Now our independent food authority has developed a clear and visible label that, with your support, will soon appear on all alcohol products sold in Australia and New Zealand.
This will replace the ineffective and confusing label applied inconsistently by some alcohol producers to date.
You will soon be meeting to decide whether to support this carefully designed label. As you do so, we ask that you put the health and wellbeing of Australian children first by supporting the evidence-based design in full.
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.
As a community, we want Aussie kids to have the best start in life.
Help our community give them that by supporting this new label without further delay.
“Success is underpinned by a team effort, with collaboration between families, communities, service providers and governments.
FASD requires a national approach, linking in closely with local solutions. We are acknowledging the scale of the issue in Australia and intensifying efforts to address it.”
The Minister for Indigenous Health and Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt AM, said the Government’s approach to FASD was to invest in activities which have been shown to be effective.
“This plan will show us the way forward to tackle the tragic problem of FASD – guiding future actions for governments, service providers and communities in the priority areas of prevention, screening and diagnosis, support and management, and tailoring needs to communities.
Alongside the plan’s release, I am pleased to announce a new investment of $7.2 million to support activities that align with these priority areas.
This funding will enable work to start immediately and help protect future generations and give children the best start possible.”
Minister for Health Greg Hunt said the Government is committed to reducing the impact of FASD on individuals, families and communities.
The Federal Government is stepping up its fight against Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) today by unveiling a new national action plan and more than $7 million in new funding.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is the term used to describe the lifelong physical and neurodevelopmental impairments that can result from fetal alcohol exposure.
FASD is a condition that is an outcome of parents either not being aware of the dangers of alcohol use when pregnant or planning a pregnancy, or not being supported to stay healthy and strong during pregnancy.
This funding will enable new work to get underway and build on proven programs – to help protect future generations and give children the best possible start in life.
Key Points of action plan
FASD will be tackled across a range of fronts – including prevention, screening and diagnosis, support and management, and priority populations at increased risk of harm.
PREVENTION: $1.47 million including new consumer resources and general awareness activities – including national FASD Awareness Day, translation of awareness materials into a variety of First Nations languages, and promotion of alcohol consumption guidelines, and bottle shop point of sale warnings.
SCREENING: $1.2 million to support new screening and diagnosis activities, which will include reviewing existing tools and developing new systems and referral pathways, to assist professionals in community settings.
MANAGEMENT: $1.2 million goes to management and support activities, including tailored resources for people working in the education, justice and police sectors.
LOCAL TARGETING: $1.27 million to develop targeted resources, to meet local cultural and community needs.
BUILDING ON SUCCESS: $1.55 million to continue proven activities – with support for Australia’s FASD Hub, a one-stop shop containing the FASD Register and public awareness campaigns.
The Strategic Action Plan also establishes an expert FASD Advisory Group – which will report to the National Drug Strategy Committee on the progress being made, while promoting successful models and highlighting emerging issues and evidence.
From the FASD Workshop in Perth this week
The plan is committed to breaking FASD’s impact on
Encounters with the law
Deaths in custody
Suicides and chronic health conditions
FASD requires a national approach, linking in closely with local solutions.
We are acknowledging the scale of the issue in Australia and intensifying efforts to address it.
The activities and actions outlined in the priority areas of the Plan are intended to guide future action – they are not compulsory and can be adopted as needed, along with other interventions and programs, based on local needs.
Activities should be evidence informed and based on best available research and data – actions should be tailored to individual communities and regions.
Since 2014, the Liberal National Government has provided almost $20 million in direct funding to tackle
” The National Alcohol Strategy 2018- 2026 outlines Australia’s agreed approach to preventing and minimising alcohol-related harms.
The National Alcohol Strategy provides a national framework and highlights a number of opportunities for action under each of the priority areas of focus.
These opportunities are examples of activities or initiatives that could be considered at either local, jurisdictional (state and territory) or national levels, including a mix of broad population approaches and targeted approaches.”
As a sub-strategy of the National drug strategy 2017-2026, the National alcohol strategy is overseen by the Ministerial Drug and Alcohol Forum. The Forum consists of Ministers from across Australia with responsibility for alcohol and other drug policy from the health and justice/law enforcement portfolios from each jurisdiction.
On 27 November 2017, members agreed that the draft National alcohol strategy will undergo a public consultation process to further inform the strategic direction and priorities of the strategy.
The online submission process is now open and will close on 11 February 2018. Feedback from the consultation will be considered by the Ministers at their next meeting in 2018, and the strategy revised.
Overall, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to abstain from drinking alcohol than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (31% compared with 23% respectively). However, among those who did drink, higher proportions drank at risky levels (20% exceeding the lifetime risk guidelines) and were more likely to experience alcohol-related injury than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (35% compared to 25% monthly, respectively).26
For this reason, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people suffer from disproportionate levels of harm from alcohol, including alcohol-related mortality rates that are 4.9 times higher than among non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.27
The poorer overall health, social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Islander people than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also significant factors which can influence drinking behaviours.28
People in remote areas
People residing in remote areas have reported drinking alcohol in quantities that place them at risk of harm at higher levels that those living in less remote regions.
People in remote and very remote areas were 1.5 times as likely as people in major cities to consume 5 or more drinks at least monthly and 2.4 times as likely to consume 11 or more drinks
Pregnant women (or those planning a pregnancy)
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can result in birth defects and behavioural and neurodevelopmental abnormalities including Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Data from states and territories have estimated FASD rates at 0.01 to 1.7 per 1000 births in the total population and 0.15 to 4.70 per 1000 births for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.31 There is evidence that indicates some communities are experiencing much higher incidences of FASD and therefore the lifelong impacts of FASD.32
The relationship between the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy and the expression of FASD is complex, but avoiding drinking before or during pregnancy eliminates the risk of FASD.
Around 1 in 2 women report consuming alcohol during their pregnancy, with 1 in 4 women continuing to drink after they are aware they are pregnant. Of these women, 81% drank monthly or less with 16.2% drinking 2–4 times a month.33
The Ministerial Drug and Alcohol Forum is co-Chaired by the Commonwealth Ministers with portfolio responsibility for alcohol and other drugs (AOD), and justice/law enforcement.
Membership consists of two Ministers from each jurisdiction, one each from the health/community services portfolios (with AOD policy responsibilities) and one from the justice/law enforcement portfolios.
The Commonwealth, State and Territory governments have a shared responsibility to build safe and healthy communities through the collaborative delivery and implementation of national strategic frameworks to reduce AOD related harms for all Australians.
The Forum will be supported by the National Drug Strategy Committee (NDSC) in the implementation and monitoring of these national strategic frameworks.
The Australian Government Department of Health is undertaking consultations to inform the development of the National FASD Strategy 2018– 2028.
The Strategy will provide a national approach for all levels of government, organisations and individuals on strategies that target the reduction of alcohol related harms relating to FASD, reducing the prevalence of FASD in Australia and provide advice and linkages on the support which is available for those affected by the disorder.
The objectives of the National FASD Strategy 2018 – 2028 are:
strengthen efforts and address the whole-of-life impacts of FASD;
address the whole-of-population issues;
support collaborative cross sectoral approaches required to prevent FASD in Australia; and
provide information and support those living with and affected by the disorder.
The Department has engaged Siggins Miller Consultants Pty Ltd (Siggins Miller) to undertake the development of the National FASD Strategywhich includes consultation with stakeholders and the development of a national strategy which provides a national holistic approach to reducing the prevalence of FASD; support Australians living with the disorder; guide the activities of individuals and communities as well as all levels of government, the public and research sectors, Not-For-Profit organisations which can adapted and implemented across Australia.
Siggins Miller is an experienced Australian consultancy company providing services for over 20 years in policy and program research, evaluation and management consultancy. The Siggins Miller project team is led by Professor Mel Miller (Director) and Mr James Miller (Senior Consultant).
As part of the consultation process, Siggins Miller will be conducting face-to-face strategy development workshops. There will also be other opportunities to provide feedback including through supplementary telephone interviews and written submissions.
The consultation period will run from 1st July, 2017 and conclude on the 1st September, 2017.
The workshops will be attended by with individuals and organisations working on FASD, individuals and organisations working with people affected by FASD, public health organisations and representatives of State and Territory Departments including: Health, Corrections and Juvenile Justice and Education and National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Affiliates.
The workshops will be catered and run from 9:30am – 3:30pm. Face-to-face strategy development workshops will be held in and on:
Sydney: Tuesday, August 1, 2017.
Canberra: Thursday August 3, 2017.
Melbourne: Tuesday,August 8, 2017.
Hobart: Thursday, August 10, 2017.
Brisbane: Tuesday,August 15, 2017.
Cairns: Thursday, August 17, 2017.
Perth: Tuesday,August 22, 2017.
Broome: Thursday, August 24, 2017.
Darwin: Tuesday,August 29, 2017.
Alice Springs: Thursday, August 31, 2017.
Adelaide: Monday, September 4, 2017.
Exact addresses of venues are in the process of being finalised and will be communicated to all stakeholder by Siggins Miller in the coming weeks.
It should be noted that due to capacity of venues, spaces to attend the face-to-face strategy development workshops are limited in each location. Invited participants will also be responsible for any costs associated with attending the face-to-face workshop in each location.
Siggins Miller will be in contact with you by email in the coming weeks with an invitation for you to attend one of the face-to face strategy development workshops.
In the meantime, should you have any questionsabout the consultation and written submission process, please contact Siggins Millerby email on email@example.com or by phone on: 1800 055 070.
Please note that the 1800 number provided is a message bank service in which you can leave your inquiry, a senior Siggins Miller staff member will endeavour to return your call within 72 hours.
“The turnaround was not entirely surprising to researchers because of an aggressive Aboriginal-led education campaign, spearheaded by Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services and Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre.
Fitzroy Crossing’s strict alcohol restrictions, education programs run by midwives and Aboriginal staff and an innovative model of mother-and-child care focused on FASD had raised awareness: Diagnostic clinics where we show people the impact on children of drinking in pregnancy have been very helpful. I strongly suspect this synergistic approach is the one that made an impact.”
Telethon Kids Institute clinical researcher Dr James Fitzpatrick.
Pregnant mothers have eliminated or reduced their intake of alcohol in a life-affirming turnaround in the Kimberley region, which made international headlines with one of the world’s highest rates of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, in findings published early this year.
Preliminary results of an attitudinal study indicate that the proportion of women who say they drank while pregnant has dropped from 65 per cent in 2010 to 20 per cent now, according to Telethon Kids Institute clinical researcher James Fitzpatrick.
“The early data is very positive in terms of FASD prevention,” he said. “This is important knowledge as we know FASD is 100 per cent preventable. We’ve demonstrated that a multi-pronged prevention approach can work.”
Centred on the town of Fitzroy Crossing, the 450-strong Fitzroy Valley population — with 80 births a year — has had a high rate of children born with a serious alcohol-related disability. Researchers in the Liliwan study of FASD incidence in the region diagnosed one in eight children born in 2002-03 with fetal alcohol syndrome; about 55 per cent of mothers admitted to drinking heavily while pregnant. “They were shocking figures, but the positive impact of a community-led FASD prevention strategy in recent years has brought down the levels of drinking in pregnancy,” Dr Fitzpatrick said.
A questionnaire of 200 people in the Fitzroy Valley in August showed 90 per cent of women and 70 per cent of men intended not to drink during their own or a partner’s pregnancy. Another 75 per cent said they would intervene if they saw a pregnant woman drinking, and urge her to abstain.
Dr Fitzpatrick said the turnaround was not entirely surprising to researchers because of an aggressive Aboriginal-led education campaign, spearheaded by Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services and Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre.
He said Fitzroy Crossing’s strict alcohol restrictions, education programs run by midwives and Aboriginal staff and an innovative model of mother-and-child care focused on FASD had raised awareness: “Diagnostic clinics where we show people the impact on children of drinking in pregnancy have been very helpful. I strongly suspect this synergistic approach is the one that made an impact.”
A member of the Australian National Advisory Council on Alcohol and Drugs reporting to Rural Health Minister Fiona Nash, Dr Fitzpatrick said he was encouraging the federal government to consider rolling out a scaled-up model across mainstream Australia .