Drink makers divided over Diageo pregnancy labels

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Alcoholic beverage

The Alcohol industry remains divided over calls by the UK arm of
Diageo for the country's government to introduce mandatory health
warnings for pregnant women on drinks packaging.

A decision in favour for the proposals could force drink makers to re-label their products, despite there being a general policy of voluntary social responsibility currently practiced by manufacturers throughout most of Europe.

The pregnancy health labelling issue has arisen after the publication of stricter guidelines from the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) on the recommended alcohol intake for pregnant women.

Under its latest recommendations, the institute says that women should not drink alcohol during the first three months of pregnancy and afterwards, no more than one or two alcoholic units two times a week.

NICE said last year that women could drink a small glass of wine on a daily basis after the first trimester of being pregnant.

In light of these amendments, Benet Slay, managing director for Diageo's British operations, said that only by adopting a mandatory labelling standard in the country would avoid confusing consumers.

"If a pregnant woman walks into a shop and sees two bottles of wine, one with a pregnancy message on it and another without, we want to avoid her thinking that one is better for her than the other," he stated.

"A voluntary labelling agreement would carry this risk."

The drink maker's comments have been met with scepticism by a number of industry trade organisations, which have expressed concerns over the costs and effectiveness of such a scheme.

Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA) said that it was still considering its response to the proposals, which would signal a significant industry change to current labelling practices.

"There is a memo of understanding between Government and the industry to deliver this type of labelling on a voluntary basis and progress is being reviewed in November this year," he stated .

"We'll respond to the NICE recommendations in detail when we've fully considered them and discussed them with our members."

While the new labelling requirements, if passed, would only apply to the UK, the European Spirits Organisation (CEPS) said that it held some reservation over adopting the proposals.

Jamie Fortescue, a spokesperson for CEPS, said that while the industry supported any measures designed to educate consumers on the dangers of alcohol consumption, he questioned whether such a label was the best means to ensure responsible drinking.

CEPS said that the French government had already enacted a similar policy last year by employing a logo on all alcohol products designed to warn women of the dangers of consuming alcohol during pregnancy.

Fortescue said that it was not certain how the French model has affected French behaviour.

"Information on labels can not always explain the whole story regarding health," Fortescue stated.

"We, as an industry, therefore need to make sure that any warning label system is effective."

He added that the industry generally supported the existing voluntary policy-based on education through schemes such as the Drinkaware website, and other promotional material aimed at encouraging responsible alcohol consumption.

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