Last week the majority of Australian States and Territories with New Zealand, made a commitment to support a highly visible, mandatory pregnancy warning label on alcoholic beverages. This was the right decision and one that has been a long time coming.
The decision to mandate the label was first made almost two years ago at the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation, in recognition that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a life-long disability which is preventable.
Mental Health and Wellbeing, Education, Disability Services and Community Development Minister Jeremy Rockliff continued this highly significant objective and voted for a highly visible, red, white and black warning label which will help raise greater awareness while also supporting women, and their partners, to make the informed decision to not drink when pregnant.
Commentary that the labels are not needed and are an expensive waste of money, because women apparently already know that drinking is bad for their baby during pregnancy is alarming. This is simply not true. About 50 per cent of women from all demographics drink at some point during their pregnancy and about 25 per cent will continue drinking even after they know they are pregnant.
I've seen and heard first hand, the anguished stories of women who were sadly drinking before they found out they were pregnant, only to feel the distress, shame, grief and extreme guilt that their drinking has now caused a lifelong, incurable disability in their child. Disability that was 100 per cent preventable.
Over recent years, we've learned more and more about the importance of good health during pregnancy, including what foods are OK or not to eat, plus we've also learned about the true impact of a drink or two on the unborn child.
Tragically, it is a fact, that FASD can be undiagnosed for many years after a child is born and can be best described as a group of conditions that can be displayed as physical, behavioural and learning difficulties.
In my previous portfolios as Minister for Women and Human and Disability Services, many of the children in Disability Services, Child Safety and in the Youth Justice System sadly suffered from FASD, and I would hazard a guess, that FASD is also found in our adult prison population.
While the alcohol industry have raised concern about the additional cost of mandating the colour red on the label, the true cost of not doing it and not highlighting this potential harm is much higher.
- Jacquie Petrusma, Liberal Franklin MHA