Health labels warning pregnant women not to drink alcohol could be mandatory on all drinks by 2014 if the recommendations of a federal parliamentary inquiry are implemented.
The House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs has handed down its findings into Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) after a year-long inquiry.
FASD is the term used to describe a range of physical, behavioural mental and cognitive disorders caused by a mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
It has made 19 recommendations across a range of areas including awareness, diagnosis, prevention and management, and support for those with FASD an d their carers.
Committee chair Graham Perrett described FASD as a scourge in Australian society that can strike anyone, anywhere.
He said mandatory health labels were needed to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy.
“I've made it clear in my private meetings with the alcohol industry representatives that they also need to step up a bit more,” he said.
“Those involved in manufacturing, those involved in serving and retailing all need to lift their game.
“Also community needs to be more involved in it as well in terms of making sure that young people, partners and pregnant women are aware of the consequences of consuming alcohol.”
Committee deputy chair Judi Moylan said people must understand that FASD is a condition for life.
“Why shouldn't it be mandatory, given the incredible damage this does to children's lives?” she said.
The committee also wants compulsory labels to be included on pregnancy and ovulation testing kits by October next year.
And it has called for the formulation of a national plan of action, the establishment of a national FASD reference group and the rollout of a diagnostic tool.
FASD is hard to diagnose and symptoms are sometimes attributed to other conditions such as ADHD.
Committee member Dr Sharman Stone, who is also part of a bipartisan parliamentary group on FASD, said there needs to be more awareness around the issue among both the community and health professionals.
Dr Stone said not enough pregnant women are warned about the dangers of alcohol consumption, nor asked about their drinking.
“We've gone on too long pretending that drinking while you're pregnant doesn't matter,” she said.
The Winemakers’ Federation of Australia has rejected the use of mandatory labels.
Chief executive Paul Evans said voluntary measures were working well.
“We recognised that FASD is a serious issue and acknowledge the [National Health and Medical Research Council] advice that it is safest not to drink alcohol while pregnant,” he said.
“With government support we have a two-year timeframe for adopting appropriate voluntary warnings and most of our larger companies are well advanced.”