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Wine Industry Proposal to Claim "Health Effects" On Labels Is Opposed by HHS and AMA


August 1997

A proposal by wine industry officials to put a label on wine bottles that would refer to the "health effects" of "moderate" wine drinking was attacked recently by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the American Medical Association, and 20 consumer groups. Opponents of the new label say the labels could mislead people and encourage increased alcohol consumption (Associated Press, "Wine labeling fermenting doubts among officials," Philadelphia Daily News, July 22, 1997, p. 20; Associated Press, "Health Officials Criticize Proposed Wine Labels," New York Times, July 22, 1997, p. A11; Associated Press, "Critics: New wine labels would encourage drinking," San Jose Mercury News, July 21, 1997).

The wine industry says it wants to inform the public about the numerous health studies that indicate moderate wine drinking can reduce the risk of heart disease in some people. One label proposed by the Wine Institute reads: "To learn about the health effects of moderate wine consumption, send for the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans." It would provide a mailing address and a web site. "We're not saying health benefits, we're saying health effects," Wine Institute President John DeLuca said. "We're not for a blanket endorsement. We think there is a scientific balance struck in the guidelines, and we should be allowed to disseminate them."

Officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) had said they are likely to endorse the labels. However, the Health and Human Services Department is urging ATF to delay approval of the labels. "The proposal under consideration is a thinly disguised attempt to make an affirmative health claim," said Dr. John M. Eisenberg, acting Assistant Secretary for Health, who wrote a letter to ATF Director John Magaw. "I am deeply concerned that your approval of the label statements in their current form would be construed by the public as encouraging the consumption of alcoholic beverages," he said.

The American Medical Association and 20 consumer groups wrote to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who has authority over ATF, saying "The wine industry has only one purpose in mind: to sell more wine. The risks and benefit for alcohol consumption vary greatly from person to person." They urged further study of the labels.

Wine Institute - 425 Market Street, Suite 100, San Francisco, CA 94105, Tel: (415) 512-0151, Fax: (415) 442-0742.

ATF - 650 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #8290, Washington, DC 20226, Tel: (202) 927-8500.

HHS - 200 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20201, Tel: (202) 690-7000.

To obtain a free copy of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, call (202) 606-8000 or (703) 305-2039.