Assessing the Health Risks of Drinking Wine

It has been a somewhat slow week in the wine world in terms of news. Well, while there were quite a few new stories and releases (the London Wine Fair has been rescheduled because of a clash with the new date for ProWein and they are not happy about it), there doesn’t seem to have been much that was really substantial. I may have missed it because I’m constantly distracted after the quarantine of my son was with a one-day interruption followed up by another round of home-schooling for my daughter (sorry to bother you with these Covid updates, but at this point I feel you need to hear the whole story), so it suits me fine. However, there have been some developments that is worth talking about in this latest edition of the JollyCellarMaster Weekly:


Drinking in Moderation


If you are a regular, then you will know that we often cover the health benefits of drinking wine. Sometimes with a pinch of salt (figuratively not literally), sometimes based on serious research. Recently, I also bored you with my two cents on why I believe it’s better to drink (all-year round) with moderation than resort to such measures as dry January. I’d like to make a point though that when I voice my opinions, they are just that, and that I’m always willing to listen to other people’s views. While I may not agree, I respect these opinions (unless it’s entirely nonsense and bordering on the dangerous or beyond).

Having said that I came across two articles in The Drinks Business last week that talk about the latest from Brussels as well as the doings of the WHO.


Does Wine Cause Cancer?


The first piece concerns the approval by the European Commission of a report from BECA, which is the European Parliament special committee on beating cancer. This stated that there is no alcohol consumption without health risks. On February 14, the European Parliament, which is currently reviewing the report, is to vote on its findings. Depending on the outcome wine producers across the member states of the European Union could face a series of restrictions. These range from the way the product is promoted, how it is priced, and the funding received from the EU.

We already talked about the possibility that wine could be hit by similar additions to its labels as seen of cigarette packs.

Personally, I would find this rather revolting and I’m sure many people would share this view, so such measures would without doubt cause lasting damages to the image of wine and its consumption.

The article features the views of Dr Ignacio Sánchez Recarte, who is the secretary general of the Comité Européen des Enterprises Vins (CEEV). He criticises that “that the EU doesn’t seem to be interested in considering all the credible studies concerning the health implications of drinking” and that “the conclusion that imbibing even small amounts of alcohol is harmful to humans “contradicts over a century of scientific evidence that moderate consumption has health benefits”.

He also emphasises that the wine sector is one of the pillars of socio-economic sustainability in our rural areas and that wine is key to rural development, stressing that wine consumed in moderation is a joy, and a cultural contribution. While I agree on the points of cultural and socio-economic importance, this could under other circumstances also be said for other products that indeed have a negative impact, so we have to be careful about how we use this argument and an open conversation about the role of wine consumption in our society should be had.

What is, however, a highly likely outcome is that when Dr. Ignacio warns that the wine sector receives money for innovation, for promotion, and for adaptation to climate change, and that all this could disappear from one day to the other.


The Devil in a Green Bottle


The second story is about the WHO’s global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. A new action plan is likely to be adopted in May following the finalisation of draft recommendations at the end of last year that had been in the making for some time.

The current draft action plan refers to the “harmful use of alcohol” as defined in the global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol as “drinking that causes detrimental health and social consequences for the drinker, the people around the drinker and society at large, as well as patterns of drinking that are associated with increased risk of adverse health outcomes”. In short, the new policies of the WHO claim to be focusing on the reduction of the harmful use of alcohol. I am fully supportive of reducing the harmful use of alcohol and there are a number of alcohol related aspects that I couldn’t agree on more: take the affordability of alcoholic beverages – Only recently did we talk about that wine is often too cheap; even though we were looking at it from a perspective of sustainability, cheap booze benefits binge drinking, which cannot be in the interest of anyone other than a producer that doesn’t care about the effects of its products. There is also no question about the danger caused driving under the influence of alcohol and the need to enact and enforce drink–driving laws and regulations. And there are indeed “hazardous patterns of drinking and AUDs, by providing brief psychosocial interventions, treatment and care in health and social services” as the WHO formulates it.All caused by the excessive use of alcohol.

Yet, the tone of this conversation disregards mostly the distinction of excessive use of alcohol and drinking in moderation, which, I feel it is fair to say, is rather norm than the exception. The logic if the WHO, however, seems to be motivated instead by the conviction that any form of alcohol consumption is to be condemned.


Honest Discussions or Oppressing Opinions?


As I said above, I’m a big fan of discussions that include the view from many perspectives, that hears out and gives the opportunity to participate everyone. It’s the foundation of any democratic decision-making process, but I don’t want to bother you with constitutional questions. Regardless of what you may think of those, you will agree that any such conversation and decision making should be done by the majority and not driven by a few. We live in difficult times when it comes to the element of decision making. The news are full of the disagreement of some groups of society with the policies of the state – just look at the current situation concerning Covid restrictions. I for myself would like to stick to the point I made above:

While I may not always agree with the views and opinions, I seek to respect them – with the caveat that there is a limit to everything, especially when we cross the line and enter the territory of sheer and utter nonsense and particularly when such views are dangerous and harmful.

In the case of these two examples and the overall discussion on the effects of wine consumption this does not always seem to be the point. Instead, I have witnessed several times where such conversations drifted into radical territory where any form of drinking alcoholic beverages is demonised beyond any rationality and reason.

So, wouldn’t it be nice to have a fair and proper conversation? Ah, you’re such a dreamer, JollyCellarMaster!


And that’s already it for the week but if you have an interesting story to tell or simply want to chat about wine as a guest on the Podcast, connect on Twitter or drop me a line. And if you want to stay in the loop about things happening at the JollyCellarMaster and the world of wine, make sure you sign up to our newsletter.


Disclaimer: As always, I’d like to be completely transparent about affiliations, conflicts of interest, my expressed views and liability: Like anywhere else on this website, the views and opinions expressed are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. The material information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. I endeavour to keep this information correct and up-to-date, I do not accept any liability for any falls in accurate or incomplete information or damages arising from technical issues as well as damages arising from clicking on or relying on third-party links. I am not responsible for outside links and information is contained in this article nor does it contain any referrals or affiliations with any of the producers or companies mentioned. As I said, the opinions my own, no liability, just thought it would be important to make this clear. Thanks!



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