The French health ministry wants to hammer home the dangers of drinking while pregnant.

Mike Pomranz
July 16, 2018

Forced to state everything you know about France, a love of wine would almost inevitably land towards the top of the list. Maybe that’s part of the problem? The country’s health minister, Agnès Buzyn, apparently believes that the French are too cavalier with their wine consumption and has proposed slapping bottles with nearly one-inch-wide red warning labels reminding people of France's drinking age (it's 18), and reiterating the dangers of drinking while pregnant. But in an open letter, a group of wine producers strongly disagreed with the plan, stating instead that it would damage “the soul of France.”

France, like many other countries, already requires bottles to have a pregnancy warning, but the size and color of those warnings is currently not regulated. (France doesn’t require any messaging about the legal drinking age.) Still, Buzyn wants her country to better deal with wine’s potential health impact. “We have let the French population think that wine protects them, that it brings benefits that other alcohols do not,” she was quoted as saying by The Drinks Business. “It’s untrue scientifically; wine is an alcohol like any other.” Her ministry wants to see the new labels implemented by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, in their letter in the French paper Le Figaro, 64 different winemakers made an emotional plea to the contrary. “We are the guardians of an exceptional heritage: French winemaking,” the Telegraph translated. “Every day, our cellars, our domains and chateaus, our winemaking landscapes, welcome thousands of tourists [who] come to discover this France, bosom of the art de vivre that is the envy of the world and where wine plays a leading role.” The letter later wonders whether they will have to tarnish this image “with labels covered in lugubrious and deathly signs.”

In many ways, these two groups are arguing apples and oranges: The health ramifications of wine are separate from its heritage. Members of the French wine industry understand this and have proposed their own plan, suggesting less intense changes to existing warning requirements and pledging money to advocate for safe wine drinking through awareness campaigns. “If a pregnant woman is looking at such a message on the bottle with a glass in her hand, it’s already too late,” one winemaker argued according to the Telegraph.

The French government has reportedly not responded to these pleas from winemakers, but regardless of which side you stand on, the French passion for wine remains clear.