Italians are spluttering into their pinot grigio over a plan to put health warnings on alcohol, with vintners and politicians calling it an “absurd” affront to the Mediterranean diet.
The initiative to slap health warning labels on beer, wine and spirits has come from Ireland but has the blessing of the European Union.
The Italians are deeply concerned that it could be adopted by other countries in the bloc, putting Italy’s €14 billion wine sector at risk.
Unlike their northern European counterparts, Italians generally drink in moderation and are incensed by what they see as state interference in what should be a matter of personal responsibility.
“In some of those countries it is not unusual to say ‘right, tonight I’m going to get drunk’. If you do that in Italy it is something to be ashamed of – you’re seen as a damned idiot. There’s a cultural difference,” Lamberto Frescobaldi, the president of the Italian Wines Union, told The Telegraph.
‘It’s a matter of common sense’
A marquis and a member of one of Italy’s most distinguished aristocratic families, he has a wine-making pedigree going back centuries.
His family sold wine from their estates in Tuscany to Henry VIII and one of his ancestors was a friend of Dante Alighieri, Italy’s most celebrated poet.
There should be no need to put health warnings on wine, he said. “It’s a matter of common sense. If you eat half a kilo of chocolate a night, you won’t last long. If you eat French fries every day, it will be bad for your health.”
The concerns have reached the top of Italy’s government, with Antoniio Tajani, the foreign minister, calling the Irish initiative “absurd”.
He said the decision “ignores the difference between moderate consumption and abuse of alcohol”.
The Irish government informed the European Commission of its intention to introduce the labels in June last year.
The Commission did not raise any objections during a six-month moratorium period, even though Italy, Spain, France and other member states said they were opposed to the plan.
Now that it has been passed, the drinks industry in Ireland will have three years to introduce labels warning consumers that alcohol can lead to various cancers as well as liver disease.
The Italians fear that the Irish move will set a precedent that other EU nations may follow.
Italy is to appeal to the European Commission and World Trade Organisation against the labels.
Wine is ‘part of the Mediterranean diet’
Coldiretti, the national farmers’ association, described the Irish plan as a “direct attack on Italy,” warning that it would imperil the country’s €14 billion a year wine industry, €8 billion of which is earned in exports.
Calling the health warnings “alarmist”, Ettore Prandini, the head of Coldiretti, said that the initiative in Ireland “represents a dangerous precedent, as it risks opening the door to other legislation capable of negatively influencing consumer choices.”
While “Nordic countries” were notorious for binge drinking, southern Europeans were more moderate in their consumption, he said.
Luigi D’Eramo, the undersecretary for agriculture, said: “Wine and beer cannot be compared to spirits and smoking. Wine is history, culture, an expression of our land. It is part of the Mediterranean diet.”
Luca Zaia, the governor of the Veneto region, where prosecco is produced, also called the health warnings “absurd” and said they could cause huge harm to the wine sector.
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