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Wine, Labels, France, and Personal Responsibility

wine-bottles 2Wine has been an integral, firmly entwined part of civilization for almost as long as there has been civilization.  It has been used to make water potable, to drink when potable water was not an option, to help digestion, to celebrate life and to, yes, provide a level of intoxication in some individuals at some times.  It has been enjoyed, revered, despised, outlawed and made and consumed across the globe.  It is part of the vaunted “Mediterranean” diet which is believed by many (including myself) to be part of a healthier and hopefully longer lifestyle.  My daily glass of red wine with dinner is part of my bedrock.  The fermented juice is and has been a fundamental part of the history of man.  Throughout that history it has been abused by some, as have countless other things.  Humanity has a habit of making mistakes and doing stupid things, some more than others.  This is also fundamental.

In the December 15, 2013 issue of the Wine Spectator there is an article on page 17 which outlines recent efforts in France to have some language changed on the wine bottle label.  The Association Nationale de Prevention en Alcoologie er Addictologie (ANPAA) is championing a new bill which would change the current label warning from “The abuse of alcohol is dangerous for health” to “Alcohol is dangerous for your health”.  This is serious stuff here.  We’re talking about a gigantic shift in responsibility, from the person who potentially abuses the alcohol to the people who make it.  They want the label to state the substance is dangerous, period.  This puts wine on a par with cigarettes, antifreeze and sulfuric acid.  I exaggerate, but not much really.  If you drink a glass of wine, or even if you take a sip, is it dangerous?  It is not.  If you abuse it, can it add to or help create a dangerous situation?  Yes it can.  Yet it is not the wine that creates this danger, it is the person.  That is where the responsibility is and where it should stay.  This is also France, where wine is as much a part of the national culture as anything could be.  Consumption has been on a steady decline in France, but really?  Can they seriously be considering this?

Back in 2004 and 2005 the French were debating whether to put a warning on wine labels that the contents could be dangerous during pregnancy for the fetus.  Medical studies show that the abuse of alcohol can do this, and without a specific hard line definition of how much creates the problem, abstinence during pregnancy is the preferred course by almost all pregnant women I’ve known.   In the end the warnings went on, and  I certainly agree with that.  It made sense.  This time it’s different.  This time it’s generic.  This time the warning itself is dangerous.

An article discussing that previous debate, published November 27, 2005 at the Partnership at Drugfree.org (“Wine Labels Cause Headaches in France“) provides language which typifies this misplaced sense of causality.  It states that, at that time, “Alcohol causes an estimated 23,000 deaths annually in France…“.  Last time I checked the wine bottle could not open itself, pour itself, drive a car or autonomously invade the body and attack a liver.  The alcohol itself caused no deaths in France.  People abusing it caused 23,000 deaths.  This is not a nuance, it is at the heart of the worldwide shift to remove responsibility from the individual human and place it on society.  “It’s not my fault”, or “I have a disease”, or “Someone else should have stopped me” are the normal response when someone get’s caught doing something wrong or a bad thing happens.  How about the person who did whatever it is?  Who made the decision?  Who executed the action?

Put a warning on wine labels that it “is dangerous” and the first time someone wraps their car around a pole while driving drunk they will sue the winemaker.  How can they lose?  It says the stuff is dangerous, and yet they still sell it, advertise it and celebrate it.  It’s not my fault!  What’s next: fast food restaurants? automobiles? cutlery sets?  By the way, you can kill yourself in certain circumstances by drinking too much water, should we label that as dangerous? (in a way we would be since wine is 80-85% water).

This is not intended to downplay the seriousness of alcoholism and the need to help people who suffer from it.  The ANPAA in France is devoted to helping people with this and other addictions.  This is incredibly important work.  In the end, however, we can’t lose sight of where the fundamental responsibility lies.  They are going too far here, and their move to apply a behavior tax on wine further highlights their professed belief that the wine itself is inherently dangerous.  Of course they also want to put an end to discussion about wine on social media, which you would think would be next to impossible, as well as misguided.  (Then again, it would spare you from reading this!)  Yet ANPAA director Patrick Elineau is quoted talking about the effective Chinese censorship methods for dissidents (scary) and the Australian censorship of pedophilia (definitely not scary).  He also mentions what happens with pro-Nazi websites as another example to imply that effective censorship of wine related information on the web is possible.  Hopefully he does does not believe wine to be on par with that philosophy.  Either way, once again, this is scary stuff.  Elineau is also quoted as saying he is not in favor of prohibition, and that if you gave him a bottle of Cheval-Blanc he would probably drink it with great pleasure.  I’m sorry, what was that?

So now I’m confused.  Is the wine really dangerous if he would drink it with great pleasure?  Is he simply reckless?  Or does he believe that even after drinking the wine he will not harm himself or someone else, because hopefully he will not drink it all at one time and then drive his car?  Does he believe he might be able to exercise some personal responsibility and restraint?  I think that’s it, and thus he proves what is really fundamental here – which is that the person would be at fault and not the nonsentient substance in the bottle.

I find it hard to believe that France will go along with this.  The wine industry accounts for billions of dollars in economic activity.  The Bordelaise and the Burgundians should be open revolt.  Strange things happen though.

I do have a solution for them should this come to pass and everyone in France stops drinking dangerous wine.  Send it all to me.

A votre sante!

 

 

 

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