PRIZED Catholic winemaker Tim Kirk has welcomed proposals to protect pregnant women and the unborn with alcohol warning labels, but believes the debate has wrongly portrayed the industry for raising concerns about the cost of the requirements.
Mr Kirk, who is the chief winemaker of Clonakilla, located outside Canberra, said he was “entirely supportive” of the proposals made by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.
“Certainly personally I welcome the focus within the wider community and in particular the health community on the safety and wellbeing of the unborn child,” Mr Kirk, who is a member of the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community in Canberra, said.
Under FSANZ’s proposals, all packaged alcoholic beverages sold in Australia and New Zealand would be required to have a pregnancy warning label.
The labels would include a general prohibition symbol over an image of a pregnant woman holding a wine glass set on a white background with black and red lettering warning of the dangers of alcohol to unborn babies.
The requirement to use three colours on the label has been met with concern from the alcohol industry, saying it would contribute to a large financial burden on many producers.
The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation, made up of Australian state and territory ministers and their New Zealand equivalent, were meeting on July 17 to decide on the proposals.
Mr Kirk said Clonakilla had for at least five years been voluntarily placing a pregnancy warning label – which includes a pregnant woman holding a glass of wine – but the label only uses two colours.
He said the concerns about costs were real, though it wouldn’t overwhelm Clonakilla despite then not producing wines this year due to the smoke taint from last year’s apocalyptic bushfires.
According to FSANZ’s June 30 review, the average cost to add a label in black, red and white would be close to $5000 per stock keeping unit (SKU).
“For wine producers, to have a mandatory three-colour label does represent a significant increase in cost,” Mr Kirk said.
“For wineries like Clonakilla, that won’t overwhelm us, but there are many producers, many family producers, who in the context of drought and smoke taint and trying to run a business where those input costs would be a significant factor.
“I’m not closed to it, I’m just saying this is a significant cost and for some producers this will be a significant burden.”
But not everyone is sympathetic.
Medical expert Professor Fiona Stanley told the ABC’s AM program last week that the alcohol industry’s argument against the mandatory white, red and black colour scheme because of costs was “an absolute furphy”.
“I know they only want to sell grog, and there’s enough damage done with alcohol in this country, and I know I’m being very critical of them, but I really don’t care, they’ve got to understand that this is one small thing that they can do to improve humankind,” Prof Stanley said.
But Mr Kirk, who is pro-life and strongly opposed to all forms of alcohol abuse, said this view from various health lobby groups that winemakers and brewers were only interested in making money, and insinuating they were wanting to profit from pregnant women, was unquestionably wrong.
“They seem to want to portray winemakers and beermakers as part of some evil enterprise, whereas from where I stand, as a multi-generational family winemaker, I believe strongly that wine is part of the table culture of a civilised society and has been so for millennia,” Mr Kirk said.
“So I react with disappointment about some of the language that’s used, as if all that matters to winemakers is to make as much money as possible.
“What we’re crafting here in Murrumbateman is something of dignity and beauty and there for the wellbeing and the edification of society and believing that, we are totally opposed to any form of abuse of alcohol, because that would be running totally contrary to what we envision to be the purpose of wine.
“We’re very pro-health and pro-life and utterly in favour of protecting women and the unborn children they carry.”
Mr Kirk said he welcomed all efforts by the wider community to ensure the safety of pregnant women and their unborn.
“What could be more important as a society than being actively engaged in supporting the wellbeing and health of pregnant women and the children they carry,” he said.
“I really welcome a focus on the importance of protecting pregnant mothers and the babies that they carry.”