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French winemakers up in arms over plan that could lead to health warnings on bottles

Published:  21 February, 2018

French winemakers are up in arms over the French government’s plan to curb excessive alcohol consumption, which may lead to health warnings on wine bottles.

Frederic Rouanet, chairman of the militant Aude winemakers union, has predicted widespread protests, if the French government’s health minister Agnes Buzyn adopts such a measure this year.

Buzyn recently said the previous message 'drink in moderation – the abuse of alcohol is dangerous’ French slogan, was no longer relevant: "Alcohol is dangerous for your health is the message," she said in a debate on French TV.

Buzyn's comments have drawn the wrath of the wine industry, including the chairman of Bordeaux's wine board, when she added, that in terms of pubic health, “wine was the same as drinking beer, vodka or whisky. There is zero difference."

“The wine industry wants today, to believe that that wine is different from other alcoholic drinks,” she said.

Bernard Farges, chairman of Bordeaux’s wine board, the CIVB, has since accused the minister of making "infantile and hygienist proposals".

France’s powerful wine lobby, Vin et Societé, said Buzyn had provoked a "scandal" in the wine industry by going against the tide of the political direction of travel indicated by French President Macron, who it said had encouraged the lobby group to participate in the drawing up of a new prevention plan against excessive alcohol consumption.

A known oenophile, Macron last year said: “A meal without wine is a bit of a sad meal.”

A spokesman at Vin et Societé, which represents producers and growers, however, told Harpers that, the mood in the wine industry had for now “calmed” after it had won assurances this week from the French government over the lobby group’s prevention policy role.

“The minister of health is particularly concerned by binge drinking and drinking by pregnant women,” the spokesman said.

Its change of tone follows a move from French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, to calm the anger of the French wine industry, who last week said:  "We will take on the problem head on and we will at the same time, respect the particular place which wine has in French culture and agriculture, but we are not going to kid ourselves by saying there is no problem [with alcohol] in public health,” he said.

“Everyone knows that wine must be drunk in moderation,” he added.

Anger in the wine industry has risen after the health minister launched a campaign against alcohol abuse last year, which featured corkscrews.

And in the outlines of the government’s National Health Strategic Plan 2018- 2022, wine is classed the same level as ‘legal and illicit psychoactive substances’.

Meanwhile, Cognac producers remain concerned over a government move on the table to increase indirect taxation on the consummation of strong drinks over 15% abv.