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Terrorism and unintended consequences

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Terrorism and unintended consequences

A new U.S. law intended to combat terrorism by providing more regulatory control over imported food and beverages may place an unanticipated chokehold on fine-wine imports, especially those by smaller importers that handle the wines of artisanal producers.

Like many laws passed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, a portion of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 is intended to protect against terrorism by keeping an official eye on incoming cargo shipments.

But also like so much in the world of legislation, complex regulations, quickly drafted, can have unintended consequences. Some wine-business insiders fear that provisions of this Act may cause serious problems for small businesses that import wines ... and for the wine lovers who buy them.

The problem, experts say, lies in the detailed and precise level of recording and reporting that the Act will require. Beginning in December, food-and-beverage importers and manufacturers (including wineries) that import food or beverages must register with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and provide FDA with detailed records outlining the source and shipment information of all imports.

Importers will be required to inform FDA exactly when a shipment is due to arrive in port - and they must do so on a precise schedule, no more than five days and not less than eight hours before the shipment arrives.

Large importers may not find these requirements onerous, writer Adam Lechmere reported in the British wine journal Decanter this week from VinExpo in Bordeaux. But, he said, "commentators are sure that it will make it more difficult for the smaller wineries to export to the U.S."

John Hinman, a lawyer with expertise in the wine industry, told, "The onus is on the wineries to comply. Small wineries may well say it's not worth the hassle to fill in all the forms assuming they understand what they have to do and get notice of it."

One industry source called the Act "extreme," categorizing it as a classic non-tariff barrier to trade. "There is a certain xenophobia operating within the United States, and this is just a part of it," this source told

What do you think? Whether you're in the business, or an interested consumer, in the U.S. or elsewhere, I'm interested in your opinion. Please feel free to contact me privately at, or better still, join an online conversation in our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, where you'll find an active topic titled "NEWS: US anti-terror trade law could dampen wine imports" at
(If your E-mail software broke this long link in half, take care to paste it all back into one line before you enter it in your Web browser.)

The full text of Adam Lechmere's story is online at

To subscribe to Decanter's print edition, visit

If you prefer to read primary sources, you'll find the relevant provisions of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 online in a letter from the director of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition:


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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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