November 24, 2005

Health warning on wine? French winemakers wince

By Kerstin Gehmlich

PARIS (Reuters) - A new study upset French wine producers
on Thursday by calling for wine bottles to carry public health
warnings to combat alcohol abuse.

A report drawn up for the Health Ministry recommended that
French wine bottles should carry labels similar to those on
packets of cigarettes to help fight alcoholism, which it said
affects one in 10 people in France.

The study could cause another hangover for French wine
producers who are struggling to cope with falling consumption
in France and stiff competition from "New World" rivals such as
Australia and Chile.

"We must stop considering (alcohol) as a product like any
other, which is sold like a baguette," Herve Chabalier told Le
Parisien newspaper before presenting his report to Health
Minister Xavier Bertrand.

"It's not a question of telling people 'Don't drink', but
to inform them about what alcohol really is -- a drug," said
Chabalier, a journalist and former alcoholic.

The report, obtained by Reuters, also calls for better
information for young people about the risks of alcohol.

France's conservative government has been torn between its
duty to promote public health and its desire to support the
French wine industry.

Earlier this year, the government allowed an easing of
tough alcohol advertising laws, hoping new rules permitting
adverts with a splash of color would help the sector.

But Bertrand has also said he wants labels on bottles, to
warn pregnant women of the dangers of alcohol consumption.
These labels are to become compulsory next year.


Chabalier wants the labels to go further, reading "Alcohol
consumption is endangering your health." But winemakers say
such a measure would be pointless.

"It's ridiculous," said Marie-Christine Tarby from the Vin
et Societe lobby group for the wine industry.

"This would reduce alcohol to the same as cigarettes,
whereas the two are completely different. If you drink alcohol
in moderation, you face no risks to your health. There are even

Roland Feredj, from the Bordeaux Wine Trade Council, said
it was important to inform young people about the risks
attached to excess drinking but that labels on bottles would
not do that.

"You are trying to create an atmosphere of fear. But a
policy of fear and bans does not work," he said, noting that
French winemakers had this year welcomed the creation of a
council to develop work to prevent alcohol abuse.

France and Italy are the world's top winemakers, with
France accounting for around a fifth of world production, but
New World countries have been increasing their market share.

France's wine sector -- a pillar of life that provides some
75,000 jobs -- has also suffered as the French have become more
health conscious. Over the last 40 years, alcohol consumption
per head has decreased by over a third in France.

Seven percent of French people consume alcohol excessively,
a study by statistics office INSEE showed this month. It found
that well-educated people tend to hit the bottle more often.