President Emmanuel Macron’s staunch defence of drinking wine twice a day has come under fire from a group of French doctors, who warned on Monday that “seen from the liver” it was as bad for one’s health as any other alcoholic beverage.
Mr Macron offered his outspoken support for the famously French tipple at last month’s annual agricultural fair, confessing to drinking glasses at lunch and dinner.
He also promised not to tighten the so-called Evin law, which restricts advertising on alcoholic beverages.
"It is a blight on public health when young people get drunk at an accelerated speed with alcohol or beer, but this is not the case with wine," said Mr Macron, adding that critics shouldn’t "bug the French" over an age-old pleasure.
His ode to wine was designed to quell fury among French producers over recent comments from his health minister Agnès Buzyn, who warned that the drink was bad for people’s health.
“The French population is led to believe that wine protects them, that it offers benefits that other alcohol does not,” Ms Buzyn, a haematologist, said in a television interview. “It’s false. Scientifically, wine is an alcohol like any other,” she said.
Amid an outpouring of anger in grape-growing regions, cabinet members were dispatched to wax lyrical about wine’s special status, with prime minister Edouard Philippe saying: “Everyone accepts that wine must be drunk with moderation. Like the president . . . like millions of French people, I love wine.”
But in a column in Monday’s Le Figaro, a group of nine leading doctors said the health minister “was left well alone in a government which denies the scientific evidence and appears more sensitive to the interests of alcohol than the general good”.
“What counts in terms of toxicity is the amount of alcohol drunk,” they wrote. “Seen from the liver, wine is indeed alcohol”.
As for Mr Macron’s claim that the real scourge were spirits consumed in binge drinking, the doctors pointed out that “wine represents 60 per cent of the consumption of alcohol”, which “kills 50,000 people per year” in France.
The country required a “national alcohol plan” to deal with its drinking problems, they said, pointing out that 60 per cent of the French were for tightening the rules on consumption.
The doctors clearly face an uphill task judging by a column in the same newspaper by Natacha Polony who heaped praise on Mr Macron’s stand. While“nobody knows” whether his policies will bear fruit in other areas, she wrote: “For the first time in years, a French president dares rehabilitate daily and reasonable consumption of wine”.
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While his predecessors showed scant interest in wine – Jacques Chirac famously preferred beer, Nicolas Sarkozy was teetotal and François Hollande said little on the subject – Mr Macron is a buff.
During the presidential campaign, he correctly identified a Bordeaux Blanc and a Côteaux d’Aix en Provence rose in a blind wine tasting staged by French magazine Terre de Vins. He slightly slipped on the final challenge, mistaking a Château Pape-Clément 2005 for a Paullac – though both are from Bordeaux.
In another video, Mr Macron said that, ‘I was raised by my grandparents who had this formula: ‘Red wine is an antioxidant”.