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Wine and health, sector needs to be proactive and more present in Europe where the future is decided

“To repel attacks, no is not enough”: from Assoenologi Symposium, in Naples, the course charted by Federvini and Unione Italiana Vini (Uiv)
Nicola Tinelli (Uiv), Vittorio Cino (Federvini) and WineNews director Alessandro Regoli

There are now dozens of historicized studies showing not only that wine drunk in moderation is not bad for you, but can be good for you. It emerged, yesterday, in the Assoenologi Symposium, and was reiterated today, between excursus between history and biochemistry, with Professor Michele Scognamiglio (specialist in Food Science, biochemistry and clinical pathology), culture, with journalist Luciano Pignataro, and still innovative research, such as that presented by Marco Deriu, professor of Bioengineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin, who, with the European project “Virtuosus”, is developing an artificial intelligence model to predict the organoleptic profile and the relationship between taste and health effects, or by Massimo Barchino of Asl Orvieto and addiction expert, who explained the difference between “problem and non-problem” drinkers. But the battle, political, economic, cultural and identity, must be taken to Brussels, in the European Union, and to Geneva, headquarters of the WHO, because it is in these places that the game is played. Where the wine sector, and the beverage sector in general, must make itself heard proactively, refute certain theses in a scientific way, and propose alternative solutions to those put forward, such as the “health warnings” introduced by Ireland on bottles. A vision reiterated, in particular, by Vittorio Cino, director of Federvini, and Nicola Tinelli, head of the Political Office of Unione Italiani Vini (UIV).
“Thanks to Assoenologi and President Cotarella for an event like this, the wine world needed it, we need a moment of gathering and mobilization, to face the challenges of the future. But as Federvini”, Cino said, “I make a proposal to everyone: these events should be done in Brussels. In this room we all agree on what the prestigious reports presented have shown, which confirm what we already knew, that wine, drunk in moderation, is not bad for you. But, in Brussels, the narrative is entirely different. In 2024 there is a vote in Europe, let’s mobilize starting from here, and involving the Mediterranean and “wine friendly” countries. It’s important to be in Brussels, because when less than a year ago the EU parliament approved the Beca, the Beating Cancer Plan”, Cino recalled, “the only study disclosed was the one linking alcohol and cancer, and not distinguishing between use and abuse. Nothing that was discussed here was brought in. But there is the scientific data to defend our position. The Beating Cancer Plan, it must be said, is not focused on combating alcohol: it is 300 pages of general view, and there is a small section devoted to alcohol. And, in the first version, there was no distinction made between consumption and abuse, “health warnings” were imposed, but also limitations on promotion and advertising of alcoholic beverages, using the study published in “Lancet” saying it was the most valid because it was more recent. That's how it went, then there was a big battle”, Cino recalled, “and we came to the conclusion that the EU Parliament, with the February 2022 vote, confirmed what we said here, that a distinction should be made between abuse and consumption. The text was changed, saying that “health warnings” should not be put, but messages to responsible consumption, something that many companies have already introduced for some time. And then we were able to limit the damage on promotion, which was little talked about. The Mediterranean front, however, did not hold, we were saved by the compactness of Italian and Spanish parliamentarians, and Eastern Europe. The French cousins, they voted less than half in favor of the distinction between use and abuse, in the majority they were in favor of the fact that there would be no safe level of alcohol consumption.
I say this to say that we are a minority on certain issues in Europe. Now on the horizon”, Cino added, “there are many steps on which the EU Commission will intervene, but we don’t know when, because in Brussels they try to throw the ball into the court, meaning that if, by the summer, nothing is arrived at, they will postpone everything to the next legislature, which will start from mid-2024. But it doesn’t mean that the problem is solved, the strategy is the “artichoke” strategy, with the Commission starting individual countries, like Ireland, and then going so far as to say that you just have to harmonize what is already being done by some”.
The Irish attempt is not just about Ireland, to which the Commission has given silent consent, unusually, despite 10 countries opposing it. But this is only one of the open issues. Because there is a front that starts not only from the prevalence of the Nordic countries, which have different mentalities from the Mediterranean ones, but also from the fact that certain recommendations come from the WHO. So being in Brussels is not enough, you have to be in Geneva, events like this have to be done to have our say in these fora”. Because the WHO, Cino reminded, is a complex body, but the basis for all the attacks that wine is undergoing come from WHO guidance and recommendations, such as the “no safe lavel” in consumption, the call to increase prices and taxes on alcoholic beverages, and so on. “It is a scientific organization, but influenced by many things, many trends and many thoughts, it receives funds only to the extent of 20 percent from the states, the remaining 80% is little transparency, we don’t know sometimes from which companies or donors the funds come, in this sense the EU is much more transparent. But Europe is very influenced by the WHO, and it is worrying that the recent Tel Aviv paper reiterates no distinction between abuse and consumption, the fact that comments to the paper are not public, and that economic stakeholders are not heard”.
There are many challenges ahead, Cino reiterated, on the goals set by the WHO, such as reducing alcohol consumption, not abuse, to the extent of -10% by 2030. “But we cannot, however, just say no”, Cino said, “we must propose alternatives to prohibition, as we did against Nutriscore, a battle that by aggregating other countries we will probably win. And then educate, including producers, be proactive, and avoid distinctions and divisions: we are already weak in Europe, let’s go there united”. A view shared by Nicola Tinelli (Unione Italiana Vini - Uiv). “On nutritional claims, which from December 8, 2023 will also be mandatory on wine and spirits labels, we were pioneers, proposing and getting Europe to accept a regulation that provides for the indication of calories on the label, and online nutritional information. Now the Commission may come up with a proposal on “health warnings” by 2023. But why are WHO and the Commission working so hard on labeling? Because it is much more difficult, for example, to take action on taxation and the CAP. And introducing the concept that “alcohol gives you cancer”, tout court, would bring down the whole castle. Because then one would ask why continue to fund something that, according to the law, is bad for you. It is a path already seen with tobacco. Sooner or later this “health warning” legislation, which starts in Ireland but still needs to be better defined and understood, will have to be harmonized. The Commission, on Ireland, decided, for the first time, not to intervene, despite very good possible arguments and the involvement of many member states. The Irish standard, however, is yet to be defined, perhaps there will be a 3-year transition period, there may also be time to convince the Commission to intervene. Wine must not only say no, it must come up with its own idea, its own version. As the Germans say, if you are not at the table you are on the menu, so you get eaten. And we at the European table need to be there more. This debate will occupy the agenda for the next 3 to 5 years, probably before the 2024 elections the Commission will tergiversate, because it is too hot a topic, but it will have to be seen what Parliament will come up with after the elections, and whether other initiatives of individual countries like Ireland will start. We need to be there, to be united and proactive, to speak with the voice of science, incontrovertible, lest it be said that we should not be heard because we are stakeholders”.

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