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French Authorities Call for Larger Health Warnings for Pregnant Women on Wine

Vintners and health advocates unsure whether a larger warning label on wine bottles will reduce incidences of fetal alcohol syndrome
Photo by: iStock/AleksandarNakic
French health officials worry that pregnant women are missing warnings on wine labels.

Emma Balter
Posted: January 24, 2017

A decree from France's Ministry of Health is raising eyebrows among the nation's winegrowers. Since 2007, producers have been required to print a health warning for pregnant women on the back of their wine bottles—a logo depicting a silhouette of a visibly pregnant woman drinking from a glass inside a no symbol. (Producers can also opt to use a written warning.)

During an inter-ministerial committee meeting last month, measures were announced to double the required size of the pictograph, from the current minimum of 0.5 centimeters to 1 centimeter.

According to a report published by the committee, alcohol consumption during pregnancy is the leading cause of non-genetic mental disabilities in children. They estimate that about 1 in 1,000 infants is born with fetal alcohol syndrome in France. The enforcement of the logo size is a good start, stated the report, but the committee is afraid the warning isn't visible enough, drowned out by other required information on labels and packaging.

For some producers, enlarging the warning is an ineffective solution to an important problem. "We recognize that fetal alcohol [syndrome] is a serious thing and we are in favor of fighting it," Hervé Grandeau, the president of the Fédération des Grands Vins de Bordeaux (FGVB), told Wine Spectator. However, he encourages more significant measures to be taken, such as investing in prevention and training conducted by medical personnel, which he believes would be much more effective than simply amplifying a logo. "[Authorities] pile on regulations without worrying about their efficiency."

There's also a question of priorities. While fetal alcohol syndrome is a serious issue, 49,000 French adults die annually from alcohol-related deaths, according to local media reports.

In 2012, the Direction Générale de la Santé (DGS), the administrative subdivision of the Ministry of Health, conducted a survey on women's reaction to the logo. It found that 98.6 percent of women who had seen the pictograph were aware that medical experts recommend they avoid alcohol while pregnant, against 79.1 percent of them who did not see it.

The committee was most concerned about the 24.6 percent of women who did not see the pictograph. However, the study did not test whether or not the women who had seen the logo and understood it were more likely to abstain from drinking when pregnant.

The Ministry of Health hopes to enforce the new sizing requirements early this year; all labels will have to conform within a year of the decree. In the meantime, the French wine industry remains skeptical. "Why 1 centimeter?" said Grandeau. "Why not 2 centimeters, 3 centimeters? If only things were as simple as that."

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