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French doctors criticise Macron government’s failure to tackle the ‘wine taboo’

Nine French doctors have rounded on President Emmanuel Macron and accused him of “endangering the health of the French people” with his recent positive comments about wine and failure to address the belief that wine is less dangerous than other alcoholic drinks.

In an open letter published by French daily Le Figaro this Monday (5 March), the doctors argue that comments made by President Macron and other members of his government about alcohol in wine and its health benefits are false and misleading and ultimately call for greater regulation.

The root of this attack on the president and his government is manifold. Macron recently declared at an agricultural fair that he drinks wine at both lunch and supper (‘midi et soir’) and recently said there would be no changes to the current state of the loi Évin – which, naturally, many of those in the alcohol industry would like to see relaxed and many of those in the health lobbies would like to see tightened further.

In early February, meanwhile, France’s health minister, Agnès Buzyn, in what the authors of the letter called a “courageous act”, appeared on a programme on France 2 entitled ‘Alcohol: the French taboo?’ and declared that in terms of alcohol in wine being any different to that in beer or spirits, there was: “Zero difference from the liver’s point of view. It’s exactly the same thing if you drink wine, beer, vodka or whisky.

“We have let the French population think that wine protects them, that it brings benefits that other alcohols do not. It’s untrue scientifically, wine is an alcohol like any other.”

The comments received a lot of criticism in France where wine is not just seen as the national drink, but emblematic of French culture and heritage.

The government’s spokesman, Christophe Castaner, was soon afterwards quoted as saying: “There is alcohol in wine but it is not very strong. Wine is a part of our culture, our traditions and our national identity. It is not our enemy.”

The doctors continue in their letter that far from wishing to “demonise wine” it was important to make the public more fully aware of the scientific evidence and that in terms of toxicity, over-consumption of wine was as harmful as any other form of alcohol.

Per capita consumption of alcohol in France is one of the highest in Europe at around 12 litres of alcohol per annum. The number of deaths attributable to alcohol in the country is said to be around 50,000 a year and the letter’s authors also laid the blame for much of the country’s other problems such as domestic and public violence, binge drinking, mental disorders, suicides and traffic accidents at alcohol’s door, “especially wine”.

The authors then called on the “responsibilities of the government and elected representatives” and especially President Macron to do more to protect the French people.

Not only should they be attacking the “alcohol taboo” the authors claimed but they should be putting plans together for a “national action plan on alcohol,” claiming that an opinion pole had found 60% of respondents thought current alcohol regulation was, “insufficient”.

With a Gallic flair for the dramatic, the letter concluded that if nothing changed then, “inevitably, before too long those responsible will have to answer to justice; they will not be able to claim ignorance”.

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