WASHINGTON (FNS) -- American Heart Association officials here are concerned that newly approved labeling for wine bottles links the beverage with health benefits.
"We are concerned that the approved wine label could sound like a health claim to consumers," said Dr. Robert Eckel, chairman of the AHA's nutrition committee.
The two statements approved last month for wine labels by the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, also based here, are:
"The proud people who made this wine encourage you to consult your family doctor about the health benefits of wine consumption," and "Learn the health effects of wine consumption; send for the Federal Government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, USDA, 1120 20th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036 or visit its website."
"Many folks will look at that label and never bother to talk to their physician because they will interpret the label to be tacit approval of wine drinking," said Dr. Ronald Krauss, immediate past chair of the nutrition committee.
Although there are studies linking moderate wine consumption with a reduced risk of heart disease, the AHA is concerned that consumers will believe heavier drinking is all right. According to the AHA, 100,000 deaths annually can be attributed to alcohol-related disease, and heavy drinking can cause high blood pressure, obesity, alcoholism and strokes.
Eckel is also worried that the newly approved statements create confusion in the minds of consumers, who will continue to read warnings about the dangers of consuming alcohol during pregnancy, for example, along with the more upbeat message. "On one hand, the government will have labels warning consumers about the risks of drinking and then on the same bottle, labels that reference possible health benefits," he said.
Nonsense, said Walt Klenz, president of Beringer Wine Estates and a past chairman of the Wine Institute, San Francisco. The organization has been pushing for health-related wine labeling for years.
"The wine industry believes that the American public has the right to know, and should be trusted to handle, the latest scientific findings on alcohol, the positive as well as the negative effects," Klenz said.
In a similar statement, John Sheela, immediate past chairman of the Wine Institute, noted that "While we wine growers oppose the blanket indictment of our products, at the same time, we are not for a blanket endorsement of drinking either. As the guidelines point out, not everyone can or should drink."
Moreover, the ATF has not given wine makers carte blanche when it comes to labeling. The bureau has also issued a proposal to prohibit product labeling that misleads consumers about the "alcohol character of the product," particularly for products that appear to be marketed to underage individuals.
The ATF also said it would help develop legislation to strengthen its authority over alcohol labels -- to deter alcohol beverage marketing aimed at underage people and to prevent alcohol abuse.
Ed Knight, general counsel for the Treasury Department, defended the ATF's position on labeling by explaining that the bureau can disapprove only statements that are "false and misleading." The new statements are not false or misleading, he said, because they do not make any health claim. Rather, they direct consumers to sources of information.