France's most senior health body has ruled in favour of moderate wine drinking – flying in the face of previous official advice that any form of alcohol consumption is a serious health risk.
The High Council for Public Health (HCSP) has officially disowned the conclusions of a study released earlier this year by the French health ministry’s National Cancer Institute (INCA).
This warned that drinking even small daily amounts of wine significantly increased a person’s risk of developing cancer, and for certain types by as much as 168%.
INCA’s advice for total abstinence, based on data collected from more than 500 international cancer studies, was distributed across 70,000 doctors’ surgeries nationwide.
This caused outrage among winegrowers, who claimed INCA’s findings contradicted several eminent medical studies, prompting health minister Roselyne Bachelot to backtrack.
‘I myself enjoy a glass of wine with my meals,’ she declared in February, and tried to stave off threatened legal action against distribution of the brochure by turning to the HCSP to provide a definitive opinion.
The HCSP counter-report says, ‘Concerning the prevention of cancers, INCA advises against alcohol consumption, but in doing so, it has chosen not to take into account the possible protective effect against cardio-vascular diseases afforded by slight alcohol consumption.’
The report, prepared by a panel of leading medical experts, said, ‘there is no convincing argument to justify the modification of current recommendations […] in favour of total abstinence.’
It added that INCA had ignored ‘the positive aspects that some attribute to alcohol in improving their quality of life.’
It also advised further research into the ‘benefit/risk relationship’ of moderate alcohol consumption.
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Written by Graham Tearse in Paris