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Government denies no alcohol' warning for pregnant women

Published:  23 July, 2008

The Department of Health has denied claims that it is calling for the drinks industry to urge expectant mothers to boycott alcohol completely for the duration of their pregnancy.

Public health minister Caroline Flint was widely reported in the media as demanding back labels on alcoholic drinks to include the message Avoid alcohol if you are pregnant or trying to conceive'. However, a Government spokeswoman for the Department of Health told Harpers that this was not the case, and attributed the claims to inaccurate reporting'.

Currently, the department advises pregnant women that up to two units of alcohol a day, once or twice a week, is an acceptable consumption level. However, expectant mothers in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France are advised to avoid alcohol completely. There is still no agreement, medically, on safe levels of alcohol consumption for pregnant women, or women trying to conceive, but some claim that even the odd glass of wine can trigger Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, which can cause brain damage to the unborn baby.

The DoH spokeswoman added: We are in discussion with the drinks industry about putting warnings on labels, but we haven't recommended that these warnings tell pregnant women not to drink at all.'

Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), told Harpers: The Government has put a proposal to the industry following 14-15 months' discussion in terms of wording on what they would like to see. Most of that information is already included on lots of products, such as units of alcohol and the Drinkaware information.

The important thing for everyone to remember is that this is a voluntary scheme, and the idea that the drinks industry is being negative towards this is not the case at all. We're looking for commitments from the Government that they will support this initiative with some proper education and training, in terms of responsible drinking levels, which they have palpably failed to do. Labels by themselves are not going to change consumer behaviour.'