Last December 2, the interministerial committee for disabilities suggested the logo on wine labels warning pregnant women of the hazards of drinking alcohol should be made larger, to at least 1 cm. It looks like the French State is on the warpath once more.
What kind of logo is it?
Since the October 3, 2007 bill, every bottle containing over 1.2% ABV – hence all wines – has to carry a mandatory warning logo or the statement ‘Drinking alcohol during pregnancy, even in small quantities, may have serious health effects for children’. Both logo and statement must be in the same visual range as alcohol content and must be ‘clearly understandable’. During pregnancy, the foetus is in direct contact with the mother’s blood containing any alcohol she drinks. It therefore is at risk of foetal alcohol syndrome, malformations or visual impairment, for instance. As no threshold has been established, any consumption of alcohol by a pregnant woman should therefore be avoided. It’s common sense.
Why should the law be changed?
Inserm stresses that despite the risks involved, “around 25% of pregnant women admit to having drunk alcohol during pregnancy”. Although the current logo does not have to comply with a minimum size, it is usually highly visible, so once again, the health warning is being viewed as a ‘miracle solution’. Industry lobby Vin & Société, along with many industry members, have voiced criticism over the planned legal changes. The points put forward are sometimes extreme such as the fear of being ultimately forced to use ‘plain labelling’ along the same lines as cigarette packets, or allergen labelling; currently, only sulphites have to be stated. Hence, the actual issue is not just about pregnant women. Wine labels already feature 8 mandatory statements and there is every reason to believe that more could be in the pipeline.
So what happens now?
The decision now lies with the Health Ministry. The total lack of consultation with the wine industry – which would prefer to step up prevention measures specifically targeting pregnant women – and run-up to the presidential elections are hardly conducive to constructive debate. The issue is typically French and not one that plagues France’s Italian or Spanish neighbours, despite the fact that they too are major wine producing nations. Just by way of a reminder, the logo was originally introduced at the request of an MP from France’s overseas territories in order to combat the damage wrought by... rum.