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    While there are certainly reasons to support this initiative (including basic consumers’ rights), I wonder if there has been research to indicate how much of the alcohol consumed in Australia is consumed by the drinker straight from the bottle vs consumed from a glass or other container? Drinkers (both at social venues and at home) may often not drink directly from the original alcohol container. Many, who have drinks poured for them, would never even see the original container. Would this be presumed to have some effect on the ability of warning labels to increase awareness and convey information? When I looked into the issue of alcohol labelling 2008, I was unable to find evidence that warning labels on alcohol products were effective as a public health measure. Perhaps this has changed?

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    ron batagol

    I appreciate the concerns expressed but I have a major concern with endorsing an inflexible “zero tolerance” approach to alcohol use during pregnancy. Of course I agree, and it goes without saying, that excess alcohol is probably the most teratogenic of all chemicals for pregnant women However, myself and many others in the obstetric area wrote to the NHMRC when they released their Interim Guidelines. Our concerns were that the zero approach inappropriately creates unnecessary anxiety, and indeed, may, tragically even lead to women inappropriately being advised, or seeking terminations because of wrong-headed professional advice after very occasional or inadvertent low-level exposure to alcohol in early pregnancy, rather than receiving the reassurance they require! Most importantly, as I noted in my correspondence to NHMRC, the studies on which the zero tolerance approach were based, are very poor, and fraught with methodological inconsistencies. Presumably in response to our concerns, some minor modification and thinly-veiled, rather equivocal reassurance was subsequently made in the final Guidelines regarding low-level exposure (“risk likely to be low”).
    As I say, the tragedy of the fetal alcohol syndrome from excessive alcohol use during pregnancy and the abnormalities that it causes in newborn infants is well established and I wholeheartedly endorse the importance of highlighting the dangers of excessive alcohol use during pregnancy by pregnant women . However, perhaps the NHMRC Guidelines on alcohol and pregnancy would be more believable and better accepted by the community if they didn’t opt to use bad science to justify good social objectives!!

    The reality is that occasional or inadvertent alcohol exposure to alcohol during pregnancy, ( and in breast-feeding by the way!), will not have lasting adverse effects on the developing fetus, ( or infant), and women need that reassurance, whilst advising them to minimise their alcohol intake during pregnancy and breast-feeding. So let’s be honest about the facts before we design the appropriate warning labels!!

    Ron Batagol,
    Pharmacy and Obstetric Drug Information Consultant,
    Nunawading, Vic 3131

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    Tindle Elizabeth

    My Doctoral thesis is on the Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (6 years study). This was after following the research literature on the topic for over 20 years since working in the Alcohol Studies Centre in Glasgow, Scotland, in the early 1980s. I have interviewd the Minister of Narcotics in USSR (a United Nations rep) in the 1980s about the impact of pre-natal alcohol on the next generation in Russia. The argument that is being presented by previous writers, has been recycled many times in Scotland (Edinburgh v Glasgow) Europe, and Australia (Westmead Hospital v Mater Mothers). How many times have I heard it to retain teh status quo and do nothing but argue. Meanwhile people in our community (many of whom end up in prison) try to cope with brain damage and mental health problems. Most will have some “conduct disorders” and learning difficulties at school and may need special schools or special classes. The cost on the whole community is enormous (Education, Social Workers, Foster parents, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, Legal system, Prisons). Even “social drinking” results in a thinner corpus collosum or none at all (separates the two hemisphers in the brain). The damaging effect of alcohol has been known since classical times when alcohol on a couple’s wedding night was banned in case of producing “weak, feeble and distempered” children. We can not hide this information from the public any longer. Alcohol causes brain damage (amongst other serious malformations). Remember that this prenatal damage is a lifetime hangover. It does not go away. It can not be ‘cured’. I have been a psychologist for many decades and have been in the workforce as a professional working with young people for over 50 years.

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    Tindle Elizabeth

    In 1988 one of the three recommendations of the Australian College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists was that labels on all alcoholic beverages should read that alcohol is a teratogen and will/may damage a foetus. All bottles of wine exported from Australia to USA have had such a label for over 20 years. This protected the American people. The wine consumed domestically from the same winery bore no such label.

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    ron batagol

    Elizabeth, with respect, please re-read what I have written. I have absolutely NO CONCERNS WHATEVER and, indeed, THOROUGHLY ENDORSE your concerns about the effects of excessive alcohol use in pregnancy and the risks of fetal alcohol syndrome. Indeed, when I first published my medical Reference Guides on Drugs and Pregnancy in 1980, I noted that in terms of quantifying the risk of teratogenic effects on the developing infant, excess alcohol consumption during pregnancy is the most teratogenic of ALL commonly-used chemical substances, including all of other the drugs and medicines that may be taken! However, since we now know that teratogenicity is a threshold not a stochastic phenomenon, my concern is that some, quite frankly, very poorly-designed research studies (including some used in the NHMRC Interim Guidelines), are used to inappropriately extrapolate downwards and prosecute the socially desirable position that ANY alcohol taken during pregnancy can harm the infant. This then results in the proposition that even occasional, intermittent or inadvertent exposure to a small number or even a single episode of alcoholic beverage intake is a risk to the developing infant. When women are advised and counselled on such a situation, they need justifiable appropriate reassurance, so that they do not tragically contemplate inappropriate termination or develop unwarranted anxiety about their pregnancy and the health of their developing infant, just as they do in other situations, when appropriate, if they are intermittently or occasionally exposed to certain other drugs or chemicals that they may take occasionally or in very small doses during pregnancy. As I say, there are better ways to educate people than resorting to bad science to justify otherwise desirable social objectives!! So, yes I support publicising the dangers of excess alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and putting appropriate warnings on labels, but please rely on evidence supported by the facts!


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