09.09.09 — Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Day

For Immediate Release: Alcohol Action Ireland                              8 September 2008


Government should move on overdue alcohol information/warning labels


60% of Irish women continue to drink during pregnancy –   figure “desperately worrying”


Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, today called on the government to act on overdue legislation and put information/warning labels on alcohol as Irish doctors told a top EU experts conference that six out of ten Irish women continue to drink during their pregnancy.


Alcohol Action Ireland’s Cliona Murphy said: “The Government was supposed to have introduced legislation last year that would ensure all packaged alcohol carried a warning label advising women that alcohol during pregnancy posed a risk to their health and the health of their children. That legislation is well over-due. We know that six out of ten Irish women continue drinking during their pregnancy – a fact which the author of a key report has called ’desperately worrying’.


“We know there is a very low level of awareness among women of the risks alcohol poses to pregnant women. Women have the right to make informed choices about their health and putting information/ warning labels on alcohol is one way of increasing awareness, so that women are better placed to make those decisions.


“Information/ warning labels are not just for pregnant women – they are about empowering all consumers. There is widespread confusion among consumers about how much they are drinking which is why we are also calling for information labels to carry the number of alcohol units in a drink and a list of ingredients so people know exactly what they are drinking. After all, a soft drink has to carry a list of ingredients why not an alcoholic one?”


Alcohol Action Ireland is a member of the Eurocare Public Health Alliance, which together with the Swedish Presidency of the European Parliament, is hosting an expert conference on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders – a range of physical, mental, behavioural and developmental in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy and which can potentially last a life-time.


  Two of the key speakers are consultant psychiatrist Dr. Siobhan Barry and Belfast-based psychiatrist Dr. Kieran O’Malley.  


Dr. Barry, along with colleagues in the Coombe Hospital, found that 60% of women continued to drink while pregnant, this figure contrasted sharply with the number of women who gave up smoking during pregnancy. She described the figure of 60% as “desperately worrying”:


“There is little awareness in Ireland of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders which contrasts with countries like France, the US and Scandinavia where labelling is part of a targeted public health effort to raise awareness of the issue. The fact that six out of ten women continue to drink is desperately worrying.”


The Coombe Women’s Hospital Study surveyed 43,818 women and found that women were still unaware of the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy with 36,108 continuing to drink versus 4,752 who stopping drinking during their pregnancy. This compares with 50% of women who smoked giving up smoking during their pregnancy.    




  For more information contact:

Alcohol Action Ireland Communications Officer Jo Fox 01 878 0612 or acting Director Cliona Murphy on 087 219 5723


Further information:


What are Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) describes the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These can include physical, mental, behavioural and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications.


What difference will a label on alcohol make?

First and foremost this is about empowering the consumer with information in order to make the best possible choices about their health. There is confusion among the general public regarding the actual number of units in an alcoholic drink. While there is a low level of awareness of the risks posed by drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Anecdotally, pregnant women are receiving mixed messages about drinking alcohol during pregnancy.


What campaigning on the issue is happening at European and national levels?

At European level, the ENVI Committee of the European Parliament have been reviewing the situation but their work became stalled during the last parliament – Alcohol Action Ireland would call on the Committee to resume examining the issue of labelling as a priority and that the Irish MEPs on the committee speak up on behalf of consumers.


On a national level, legislation allowing for labelling has been promised for a number of years. Alcohol Action Ireland is calling on the Department of Health and Children to put draft legislation that would carry the information/warning label as well as a full list of ingredients and the number of alcohol units in the packaged alcohol.


Please also find the programme for the Alcohol & Pregnancy Conference ay below:


Draft Programme

8:45 – 9:15 Registration

9:30 – 10:00 Welcome by the Chair MEP Alf Svensson (EPP, Sweden)

10:00 – 10:40 Opening remarks by
EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou
Swedish Health Minister Maria Larsson

10:40 – 11:10 Risks associated to prenatal exposure to alcohol
Dr Diane Black: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Foundation of the Netherlands

11:10 – 11:30 Coffee break

11:30 – 12:30 Dimension of the problem: alcohol consumption among pregnant women

Italy: Prof. Mauro Ceccanti, Università La Sapienza di Roma and Centro di Riferimento Alcologico
Spain: Unitat de Recerca Infància i Entorn (URIE), Paediatric Service, Hospital del Mar
Ireland: Dr Siobhan Barry, Coombe Women’s Hospital in Dublin

12:30 – 13:00 What can be done?: Recommendations on effective measures to tackle the problem
Dr Kieran O’Malley: Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Belfast Trust, Northern Ireland

13:00 – 14:00 Lunch break

14:00 – 17:00 Examples of good practices:

– Learning from other countries experiences: Sweden; Catalonia (Spain); Poland
– Evaluation Study of the French experience with the pictogram: Juliette Guillemont (INPEES – Institut national de prévention et d’éducation pour la santé)
– Evaluation of the UK labelling voluntary agreement: Don Shenker (Alcohol Concern)
– The experience of the Association of Swedish Midwives: Catharina Zatterstrom
– FAS policlinic (Germany): Dr. rer. med. Reinhold Feldmann

17:00 – 17:15 Closing remarks
Chairman of Eurocare: Michel Craplet