New Zealand study finds online retailers fail to display alcohol health warnings

Less than one third of alcoholic beverages sold online in New Zealand display mandatory health information and warnings, according to a new study from the University of Auckland.

New Zealand law requires that manufacturers display specific health information on their products to meet the relevant food standards code, but there is currently no obligation for retailers to make this information visible to customers, according to the study published on Friday in the journal of Drug and Alcohol Review.

Researchers said this is a significant policy gap that needs to be addressed, and noted that voluntary health warnings, such as those relating to drink-driving and pregnancy, were rarely visible online.

Given the individual and societal harm caused by alcohol, alcohol beverages in many countries are required to display health information and warnings on all product packaging, said Natalie Walker, an associate professor of the University of Auckland, who was the author of the study.

This study examines the presence, type and location of mandatory and voluntary health information and warnings consumers are exposed to when entering online alcohol retail shopping environments in Britain and New Zealand, Walker said.

Using an observational study design, 1,407 randomly sampled alcoholic beverages from 14 online alcohol retailers (7 per country) were reviewed to ascertain the visual presence or absence of mandatory and voluntary health information and warnings, she said.

The result showed that British online alcohol retailers were more compliant than New Zealand retailers in showing mandatory health information. For instance, alcohol by volume percentage was visible on 92 percent of alcoholic beverages sold online in Britain, compared to 31 percent in New Zealand.

Online retailers in both countries had a low proportion of alcohol products with viewable mandatory information, and voluntary health warnings were rarely present or viewable, according to the study.

“Mandatory health information and warnings for alcoholic beverages are not fully adhered to within the Britain and New Zealand online retail environments, impacting the ability of consumers to make informed purchase decisions,” Walker said.

Alcohol policies in both countries need to stipulate that mandatory health information and warnings should be “clearly viewable on the product page and product imagery of online alcohol retailers,” the study suggested.

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