Booze-loving France ‘complicit’ in alcohol deaths

France's love for fine wines and liqueurs means the government is closing its eyes to prevent 49,000 alcohol deaths a year, a new damning report will say.

Booze-loving France 'complicit' in alcohol deaths
Photo: AFP

Does France's love of all things Bordeaux and Burgundy and its pride in the likes of Champagne and Cognac mean it's turning a blind eye to deadly impact of alcohol on people's health?

France Court of Auditors – the Cour des Comptes – believes so and will make its firm views clear in a damning new report to be published on Wednesday.

The Cour des Comptes accuses the government of ignoring France’s alcohol problem because of the prestige and value of French wines and liqueurs.

After several months of investigations, the report will accuse the French government of “complicity” in the 49,000 alcohol-related deaths that occur each year and highlight the legal risk of its “passivity”.

It criticises the state’s lack of investment in medical research into the dangers of alcohol, which is considered a taboo subject because of the economic benefit and reputation of French wines.

With 755,000 hectares of vines in France, only Italy produces more wine in the world than France.

France is renowned for producing one of the highest quantities and highest quality wine in the world, as well as excellent beer, cider and liqueurs.

In a wine market worth €28.3 billion ($32 billion) in 2015, France remains by far the largest exporter in terms of market share value, with 29 percent, equivalent to €8.2 billion.

Despite this, the United States devotes 10 times more resources to investigating the effects of alcohol than France.

The French are the second-biggest wine drinkers after the US, representing 11 percent of the world’s wine drinkers compared to America’s 31 percent.

As of late whiskey has become increasingly popular in France, with the the average whiskey consumption by a French adult hitting 2.15 litres a year – and that’s on top of all the other types of alcohol they drink.

The Cour des Comptes report also draws attention to flaws in France's battle to prevent drink driving.

Although speed limits on the roads are very consistent, controls on alcohol consumption are much more changeable.

Almost one quarter of French drivers have admitted to drinking alcohol before driving, according to a survey published in April.

Some 23 percent of drivers said they had got behind the wheel of the car after drinking “two glasses” of an alcoholic drink, although it doesn’t specify whether those drinks were wine, beer or liqueur.

Alcohol is the second leading cause of road fatalities in France – the first one being speed – and is responsible for around 10 percent of road deaths in France, the total of which last year stood at 3,464.

The Cour des Comptes says the government must follow their own lead and take a stand with alcohol as they did with tobacco in May, when they introduced a law that demands all cigarette packets have neutral packaging.

A French government plan to include reinforced health warnings for wine on bottles was proposed in 2014, but was met with outcry from the the country's wine industry chiefs.

The new report criticising the government comes just a couple of weeks after the €81 million Cité du Vin, described as the biggest wine museum in the world, opened in Bordeaux.

Located in the home of France’s wine country, the museum aims “to bring wine to life” and was officially inaugurated by President François Hollande on June 1st. 

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Cold snap ‘could slash French wine harvest by 30 percent’

A rare cold snap that froze vineyards across much of France this month could see harvest yields drop by around a third this year, France's national agriculture observatory said on Thursday.

Cold snap 'could slash French wine harvest by 30 percent'
A winemaker checks whether there is life in the buds of his vineyard in Le Landreau, near Nantes in western France, on April 12th, following several nights of frost. Photo: Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP

Winemakers were forced to light fires and candles among their vines as nighttime temperatures plunged after weeks of unseasonably warm weather that had spurred early budding.

Scores of vulnerable fruit and vegetable orchards were also hit in what Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie called “probably the greatest agricultural catastrophe of the beginning of the 21st century.”

IN PICTURES: French vineyards ablaze in bid to ward off frosts

The government has promised more than €1 billion in aid for destroyed grapes and other crops.

Based on reported losses so far, the damage could result in up to 15 million fewer hectolitres of wine, a drop of 28 to 30 percent from the average yields over the past five years, the FranceAgriMer agency said.

That would represent €1.5 to €2 billion of lost revenue for the sector, Ygor Gibelind, head of the agency’s wine division, said by videoconference.

It would also roughly coincide with the tally from France’s FNSEA agriculture union.

Prime Minister Jean Castex vowed during a visit to damaged fields in southern France last Saturday that the emergency aid would be made available in the coming days to help farmers cope with the “exceptional situation.”

READ ALSO: ‘We’ve lost at least 70,000 bottles’ – French winemakers count the cost of late frosts