French wine companies and the medics have a war of worlds

France’s national medicine academy has lambasted alcohol industry lobbying power for diluting public health policy, but a leading wine trade group criticised a ‘moral crusade’ against the sector

Alcohol consumption in France has stopped falling for the first time since the end of the Second World War, said the country’s Académie Nationale de Médicine this week.

It called the news ‘a major defeat for public health’ and said that government policy has proved too susceptible to alcohol industry lobbying.

Alcohol kills 41,000 people per year in France and consumption was the same in 2017 as in 2013, it said, citing recent data from the country’s public health agency.

Gérard Dubois, a public health professor, told Europe1 radio that involving alcohol firms in prevention policies was akin to ‘wolves educating sheep’.

But trade body Vin & Société, which claims to represent 500,000 wine professionals in France, said that it had been singled out for criticism by Dubois in a separate interview on France Interradio, and it hit back by accusing some public health campaigners of ‘denigrating’ the wine sector.

Joël Forgeau, the group’s president, said that there was an ‘anti-wine crusade’ and a ‘violent moral charge’ against wine consumption among some campaigners.

Calls for tougher measures

On Monday, the national medicine academy had called for a series of tougher measures on alcohol selling. This included a minimum price on drinks and a simple warning on bottle labels, to read that ‘alcohol is a danger to health’.

It also called for mandatory calorie labelling and asked ministers to strengthen France’s Evin Law, which has governed alcohol publicity since 1991, after what it believes has been a process of watering down.

It suggested that government ministers appeared to give wine a special status, even though it accounts for half of France’s alcohol consumption. Vin & Société reiterated its calls for a balanced approach that also recognised wine’s place in French culture and its importance as the country’s second most valuable export after the aerospace industry.