Despite massive legal and lobbying efforts by the cash-rich drinks industry, many governments are considering following the US in demanding health warnings on bottles of alcohol.

The industry has just escaped in New Zealand where members of parliament have voted down a private member's bill to force health warnings.

But it could still appear through the backdoor as Australia considers using food labelling rules to introduce the warnings.

And during his speech to the Labour conference last month UK premier Tony Blair also made reference to the damaging effects of alcohol - particularly in relation to crime - and campaigners across Europe are calling for changes.

The US has had mandatory warnings since 1989 and health campaigners claim this is an example the rest of the world should follow.

"We are not giving up yet," said NZ Labour MP Dianne Yates, who put forward the private member's bill.

"Health warnings are a very cost effective way of getting the message across and I believe it is an idea that will have its time."

The bill was dumped after its first reading when a conscience vote defeated the proposal 61 to 53.

But consumers' minister Phillida Bunkle is considering encouraging the joint New Zealand Australian Food Authority to introduce the measures using food laws rather than liquor laws.

The Authority ruled against warnings in 1998 but is understood to have disliked the proposed slogan: "alcohol is a dangerous drug".

Campaigners downunder are angry that the drinks industry is pumping large sums of money into preventing what they consider a cheap and effective solution. MPs in New Zealand received a large hard-bound document before their vote and Yates says that the expensive legal opinion that went into lobbying parliament would easily covered the cost of adding warnings to bottles.

The drinks industry told MPs that the warnings didn't show balance, as there are benefits from moderate drinking, and claimed that US studies show that the labels are ineffective at modifying behaviour.

But in reality while the drinks industry is lobbying to prevent labelling now the situation may swing within the next decade as consumers, who have become accustomed to seeing the tobacco giants hammered in the courts, start looking for people to blame.

This is why labelling arrived in the US. A case was brought by Candace Thorp of Seattle. She sued the makers of Jim Beam bourbon after she drank a quarter of a bottle a day during her pregnancy and gave birth to a handicapped baby. Thorp won her case and the US drinks industry sprinted towards health warnings far outpacing the legislators.

In New Zealand the two warnings that were being voted on were:

1. Women should not drink liquor during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects; and

2. Consumption of liquor impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.

And while nobody can disagree that the problems of alcohol abuse are very serious, for most people the warnings could be more accurate.