New warning labels may be costly for wineries

By Spencer Fowler Steen

Wineries may be forced to fork out for compulsory new labels warning pregnant women not to drink alcohol.

Despite many wineries already displaying optional warning labels on their bottles, the regulator Food Standards Australia and New Zealand is set to make new labels compulsory within 60 days in a bid to reinforce public health messages.

Tahbilk Winery chief executive Alister Purbrick said while the industry was mostly supportive of the scheme, the proposed two-year exemption period for businesses to sell products without warnings would cause headaches for winemakers who stored bottles longer than two years.

“The problem is that after two years, we’d have to hand-label the old wines, which would be expensive,” Mr Purbrick said.

“I suggest that it shouldn’t be two years, it should be based on vintage.

“For example, apply it to all wines labelled and released on the market from 2021 onwards, allowing us to cost-effectively sell our stored stock.”

St Anne’s Winery administrator Lisa McLean said wineries would be lucky to sell off their unlabelled stock in two years.

“We would struggle to sell even a quarter of our red wines in that time,” she said.

“Because we don't use FSANZ's recommended logo from the report, we would have to redesign all our wine labels if the new logo was passed.”

Since 2011, the alcohol industry has implemented a voluntary labelling scheme to warn women of the dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant.

But about 25 per cent of women in Australia and 20 per cent in New Zealand continue to do so, according to research cited in the FSANZ report.

Australian Grape & Wine chief executive Tony Battaglene said given existing initiatives were already driving positive cultural change in Australia, the best approach would be to mandate the voluntary labels and further invest in raising awareness.

“It's a kick in the guts to Australia’s 6000 grape growers and 2500 winemakers who are battling the impacts of fires, smoke and drought,” Mr Battaglene said.

If the FSANZ ministerial forum does not raise an objection within the next 60 days, the labels will become mandatory.