SACRAMENTO — A coalition of consumer and health organizations called on the Deukmejian Administration on Tuesday to require under Proposition 65 that alcoholic beverage containers carry warning labels for pregnant women.
The Consumers Union, the California Council on Alcohol Policy and more than a dozen other groups filed a petition with the state Health and Welfare Agency urging the Administration to withdraw a proposed regulation that would allow the less-stringent policy of posting warning signs in stores, bars and restaurants.
"The state should act in the interest of healthy babies, not (at) the pleasure of alcohol producers," Consumers Union lobbyist Jim Shultz charged at a press conference. "The babies of this state deserve better than a rinky-dink warning."
Scientific studies show that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause a wide range of birth defects, including mental retardation and low birth weight. As a result, alcoholic beverages have been included by Gov. George Deukmejian on the list of chemicals governed by the anti-toxics initiative, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters last year.
To comply with Proposition 65, manufacturers of beer, wine and liquor must warn the public that alcohol can cause reproductive harm. But the liquor industry is strongly opposed to putting warning labels on containers.
The regulation, while drafted by the state Health and Welfare Agency, reflects an understanding reached between the retailers and the liquor industry that alcohol warnings would be posted in stores and bars, with the manufacturers assuming all responsibility for posting the warnings.
The consumer and health-group coalition, which includes the PTA and the March of Dimes, contends that putting labels on containers is required by Proposition 65. They also maintain that putting warnings directly on cans and bottles would be the most effective method of alerting the public that alcoholic beverages can cause birth defects.
Not as Effective
Posting warning signs in stores and bars, Shultz argued, would not be as effective a method of warning one key target group: women under the legal drinking age of 21.
And Robert Roth, an attorney for the California Council on Alcohol Policy, said posting signs in the state's 68,000 liquor outlets would make enforcement much more difficult than requiring manufacturers to put labels on their containers.
"The state has estimated that more than 4,000 infants are born in California each year suffering from some form of alcohol-related birth defects," Roth said. "The state has a responsibility to use the most effective means possible to prevent this needless suffering."
The Health and Welfare Agency, however, takes the position that a variety of warning methods are permitted by the initiative. Any bottler that wants to put warning labels on its product would be permitted to do so under the proposed regulation, said Health and Welfare Deputy Secretary Jim Morgan.
Morgan also rejected any suggestion that the proposed regulation had been dictated by the liquor industry. He pointed out that it was the governor's scientific advisory panel that decided on its own to recommend that alcohol be placed on the Proposition 65 list of reproductive toxicants.
"To infer that we are proposing to adopt what was handed to us by one group is not accurate," Morgan said. "The governor has committed to the full implementation of Proposition 65. It will be accomplished by science, not special interests, politicians and movie stars."
Morgan said the agency will consider the consumer and health group petition at a Dec. 3 hearing scheduled to discuss adoption of the rule, along with a number of other regulations proposed to help implement Proposition 65.