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February 20, 1997

For More Information

George Hacker
202-332-9110 ext. 343

Proposed Wine Label Would Mislead Women About Breast Cancer Risk

Wine Institute Ignores Study Confirming Increased Risk at Less Than a Glass Per Day

Armed with recent findings confirming that alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer in women, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) renewed its opposition to wine industry proposals to promote the health benefits of alcohol on wine labels. The new study done at the Harvard School of Public Health appeared in the February 18 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. It found that alcohol consumption correlated with increased breast cancer risk, even at levels of less than one drink per day.

In a letter to John Magaw, Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF), CSPI's Director for Alcohol Policies, George Hacker, cited the Harvard study as further evidence that even a so-called "directional" wine label, one that would refer consumers to a government document for more information, could provide misleading, incomplete, and unbalanced health advice to American consumers. BATF is expected to rule on two wine industry label submissions in the near future.

One of the proposals, by the California Wine Institute, would read (in part): "To learn the health effects of moderate wine consumption, write for the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans ...." In his letter, Hacker noted that neither the current government-mandated health warning on alcoholic beverages nor the Dietary Guidelines provides information about the risk of breast cancer among women who consume alcohol. Neither document alerts women of an increased risk at a moderate level of consumption, less than one drink per day.

"The Wine Institute wants this label statement because it will remind consumers of the many media stories about the apparent health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. The aim is to sell more wine, particularly to women, who purchase most of it," Hacker said. "Rather than facilitate wine industry marketing plans and public policy agendas, BATF should insure that health claims be balanced with information about the full range of risks related to alcohol, including the risks of moderate alcohol consumption, such as breast cancer. What good does it do if a wine label refers to a government document that is utterly silent on a risk that is a prime concern to millions of American women?"

Hacker urged BATF to reject the proposed labels and instead work with the Department of Health and Human Services to provide balanced information on alcohol and health.

Sheila B. Blume, M.D., addiction psychiatrist and former New York State Commissioner on Alcoholism, said, "The Harvard study gives us one more reason to oppose the Wine Institute's self-serving label proposal. Although inadequate for both sexes, it is particularly misleading for women."

CSPI is a nonprofit health-advocacy organization that focuses on alcoholic-beverage problems, nutrition, and food safety. It is based in Washington, D.C., and is supported largely by more than one million subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter and foundation grants. It does not accept industry or government funding. CSPI led efforts to win passage of the law requiring warning labels on alcoholic beverages and has publicized the nutritional content of many popular restaurant foods.

To read the JAMA abstract, click here.

To read the letter to BATF Director John Magaw, click here.