In an effort to avert that outcome, the Wine Institute, a San Francisco-based trade organization, is trying to spur support for the labels by urging its members and the public at large to submit comments to the BATF before the Feb. 22 deadline. (See the information below on how to send comments to the BATF.)
In February 1999, then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin approved two labels that describe how to get more information about the health effects of wine consumption. One of the two, written by the Wine Institute, directs consumers to the federal dietary guidelines, which contain statements about the potential benefits of drinking moderate amounts of alcohol. A second label, composed by California vintner Patrick Campbell of Laurel Glen Vineyard, suggests that consumers ask their doctors about the subject.
Since then, the BATF has approved 98 similarly worded labels, but in December it announced a moratorium on any new labels until it issued amended regulations.
The agency is considering the amendments as part of a deal Rubin struck in April 1999 with Senator Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., to help lift his opposition to several key Treasury Department appointments. Thurmond, a long-standing opponent of the wine industry, was critical of Rubins original approval of the labels and had blocked the nominations in retaliation.
Wine industry foes, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, are reportedly trying to flood the BATF with negative comments about the health statement labels.
Proponents of the new labels are worried about two passages in the regulations, which question "whether the negative consequences of alcohol consumption" preclude health statements of any type, and whether the dietary guidelines themselves are misleading.
The overall intent of the regulations are supported by the Wine Institute and others because they would codify the existence of health-related statements, which had not previously been allowed.
Public hearings on the matter are scheduled for this spring; dates for the hearings are slated to be announced on Feb. 28 by the BATF.
How to Make Your Voice Heard
Send all correspondence to:
Richard Mascolo, Chief, Regulations Division
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
Attn: Notice 888 - Directional health-related statements on wine labels
P.O. Box 50221, Washington, D.C. 20091-0221
Fax: (202) 927-8602