The French government is debating whether to make health warnings for pregnant women compulsory on wine bottles.
If the measure gets final government approval later this year, all bottles of alcoholic drinks will be obliged to carry a warning advising pregnant women that total abstinence is the best policy.
All wine bottles on the American market come with a government warning from the the Surgeon General advising ‘women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.’ Such labels are not required under present European legislation.
France has a very high rate of foetal alcohol syndrome: about 7,000 babies each year are thought to be mentally or physically damaged by passive consumption of alcohol whilst in the womb.
Three mothers of babies born with congenital deformities have begun proceedings against the state for not providing enough information warning them of the dangers of drinking whilst pregnant. The case, in Lille, is thought to be the first of its kind in Europe.
While France has historically had a relaxed attitude towards the health effects of drinking – only recently has the government clamped down on drinking and driving – there is a growing consciousness of the potential risks.
The wine industry – mired in crisis – has reacted with predictable fury. While Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppe has approved the measure, Denis Verdier, president of the Vignerons Cooperateurs de France, which represents 110,000 wine growers, said, ‘We are getting sick and tired of being tarred with the same brush as hard drugs and strong spirits.’
Over the past 40 years, French wine consumption has almost halved. In the 1960s, the average citizen drank 100 litres a year. Although that figure has now fallen to 58 litres, it is still the highest in the world. The British, by comparison, drink 16 litres annually.
Written by Adam Lechmere