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Testimony before the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms concerning health claims and health-related statements for alcoholic beverages (ATF re NPRM 884), San Francisco, California, May 23, 2000

© by Patrick Campbell
Patrick Campbell is the Proprietor of Laurel Glen Vineyard and a frequent spokesman on behalf of the California family winery industry and wine regulatory issues. This testimony was also on behalf of the Coalition for Truth and Balance, a wine-industry group.

Good morning and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address this important issue.

First of all I'd like to point out that ATF has approved not only two, but three, different directional label messages:

  1. "The proud people who made this wine encourage you to consult with your family doctor about the health effects of wine consumption."

  2. The Wine Institute message directing the reader to the Dietary Guidelines published by the Department of HHS.

  3. The message that appears on the 1997 Laurel Glen label, which reads as follows: "We encourage you to consult with your family doctor about the health effects of wine consumption" was approved on June 3, 1999. You will note that in this message, "The proud people who make this wine" verbiage has been struck and the word "We" inserted in its place."

It is this third message with which I will deal today.

My testimony will not address whether science has determined wine drinking to be a healthy or unhealthy activity. You will doubtless hear plenty of testimony from others on this point. None of it is relevant to the matter at hand, because the approved messages do not constitute health-related statements or make substantive claims regarding health benefits.

Health-related statements are subject to truth and falsity and fall explicitly with in the jurisdiction of ATF as noted in Title 27 of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act Section 4.39. This Section deals with Prohibited Practices; paragraph (h), titled "Curative and therapeutic effects" reads as follows:

Labels shall not contain any statement, design, or device representing that the use of any wine has curative or therapeutic effects if such statement is untrue in any particular or tends to create a misleading impression.

Section 4.39 (a) and (1) puts a finer point on what the FAA Act considers misleading in this context:

[Wine labels]....shall not contain: Any statement that is false or untrue in any particular, or that, irrespective of falsity, directly, or by ambiguity, omission, or inference, or by the addition of irrelevant scientific, or technical matter, tends to create a misleading impression.

You will notice that I have referred to the three directional labels as "messages," not "statements." This is because none of them are statements at all. The "We encourage you to consult with your family doctor about the health effects of wine consumption" message is neither true nor false: it makes no claim, positive or negative, therapeutic or curative, pro or con.

But irrespective of truth and falsity, is the message misleading? It presumes nothing. It presupposes nothing. It in no way directs the outcome of any consultation the consumer may or may not undertake (for all the winery knows, the doctor may tell all of his or her patients never to touch the stuff). It is a thoroughly neutral and impartial message.

It is profoundly not misleading.

It is clear and unambiguous.

In short, the message is neither false nor misleading and therefore meets the test of the FAA Act. This is a no-brainer: ATF has no authority to continue withholding its use.

Now that we have determined what this message is not, let's consider what it does. It is natural and proper for consumers to ask questions about what they ingest. Many wine drinkers would like to know more about the health effects of wine consumption, both good and bad; this message merely directs them to their family doctor for information. Nothing more, nothing less.

How any reasonable person could object to this sensible message is hard to understand. You'd think every health professional in the country would welcome it. After all, if you can't trust your family doctor for truthful and not misleading advice on health issues, who can you trust?

This issue has been before ATF for over five years, since Laurel Glen submitted its first COLA on June 20, 1995. Since that time, Laurel Glen has changed the wording several times at the request of the Bureau and the entire process has been subjected to the most intense public and Congressional scrutiny. It has withstood the astonishingly thorough consumer survey conducted by CSAP, which concluded that drinking patterns would not be influenced by these messages. Now we have the public hearings in Washington, DC and San Francisco. By sunset tomorrow, these little messages will have been, once again, picked over by the finest of toothed combs. I trust that by then, nothing that wasn't known years ago will have surfaced. Enough is enough.

A painstaking public review of important health issues is right and proper. But absent new information, it is time for ATF to reinstate its approval of the directional messages on wine labels. ATF made the right decision then. It should make the right decision now. The wine drinkers of America deserve no less.

Thank you.

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