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Wine and Cancer : the controversy continues

Par Vitisphere Le 26 février 2009
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Wine and Cancer : the controversy continues

rench MPs are debating new Welfare laws, comprising measures designed to prevent youngsters from binge drinking. These measures include the banning of "open bars" - where drinks are free after the initial cost of admission - which have the implication of outlawing free wine tastings in wine fairs. On Wednesday 19th February, by a strange coincidence, while this debate was raging in parliament, the INCa published a report dating from 2007 - “Alcohol and the risk of cancer.” The report, centring on understanding the relationship between consuming alcoholic drinks and the risk of cancer, has been a bombshell. In effect, according to this report “even a moderate drinker (less than 3 glasses a day for a man, and 2 glasses for a woman) increases his or her risk.”

Immediately picked up by the national press, sparking off complete incomprehension in both clients and competitors in France, this report put the wine community, and the medical world in turmoil. A number of studies show and have shown for a while that the moderate consumption of wine brings some health benefits, notably to cardio-vascular levels…

The reactions of eminent cancerologists have challenged the report from the INCa (to read the full report in French on Vitisphere, click here). We will quote in particular Prof. Henri Joyeux, surgeon and cancer specialist at the Faculty of Medicine in Montpellier, specialising in the relationship between nutrition and cancer. “I am in total disagreement with the conclusions of this study on wine. The publication of INCa is based on meta-analysis, gathering 7000 scientific studies. When one knows the way in which these studies were managed, one is in a position to say that one can only doubt the value of this last publication. Most seriously, it is the fact that the scientists know it very well. INCa discredits itself by publishing such findings. The study confuses regular drinkers of strong alcohol (whisky, gin , vodka) who undoubtedly increase their risk of cancer of the mouth and the oesophagus (especially if it’s accompanied by smoking a packet a day), and regular wine drinkers, consuming a glass of wine between a pear and some cheese, which on the contrary reduces the risk not only of cancer but of cardio-vascular illness. Confusing whisky, wine or beer is a serious scientific error, given the significant differences in their respective health implications or benefits."

Professor Bernard Debré, chief of the urology department at Cochin Hospital, has for his part denounced in an interview for local newspaper Midi Libre “this cock and bull study [that] lacks fundamental science. It is scandalous to publish such things. Everything in there would worry the public, and it shocks me deeply. It incites people to not drink, to be wary of red meat and cooked pork, to watch out for cheese… But where does it all end? In what country can one live? Soon it will be necessary to wear a spacesuit.”

Professor Norbert Latruffe (University of Bourgogne-INSERM U866 in Dijon), Dr Michel de Lorgeril, resercher at CNRS and specialist in studying the interaction between the consumption of alcohol and health, as well as Dr Jean-Louis Thillier, reacted immediately to this publication (to read their reactions in French on Vitisphere, click here).

The General Association of Wine Production (AGPV) issued a scathing press communication, showing the limits of this study, and the contrasting studies published since, and advocating moderation. The representatives of the profession did however, on the 19th February, leave the Wine Council of Viniflhor in protest against “the silence and lack of action of public powers”.

Internet users have been equally numerous in giving their opinions on the subject, often quite humourously (for an overview in French, click here).

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