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Three Senators Call for Warning Labels on French Wines

Dana Nigro, Julia Mann
Posted: August 10, 1999

Last week, three U.S. senators proposed a plan to put government warning labels on imported French wines, following reports that some wineries in the Rhone Valley region of France were caught using banned animal blood products to filter their wines.

Indicating that they were prompted by fears of contamination, senators Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., introduced a bill that would amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to require that French wines be labeled with the statement, "Dried animal blood is occasionally used as a clarifying agent in French wines." The move follows last month's decision by the Chinese government to suspend imports of French wine until it could confirm that none of the wine was tainted.

The European Union banned the practice of using animal blood products as fining agents in 1997, after the "mad cow" disease scare in the United Kingdom. (Medical researchers believe that bovine spongiform encephalopathy may be linked to a new strain of a human brain ailment, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, and that the cattle disease could possibly be transmitted to humans through beef and blood.) But in June, the French government caught nine wineries using dried cows blood products to remove sediment and other particles from their wines.

According to Emmanuel Drion, the director of the Cotes du Rhone Committee, none of the nine companies make Appellation d'Origine Controlle (AOC) wines, the higher-quality bottlings that are most typically exported to the United States. Drion added that dried blood was widely used to remove particles from wines up until about 10 years ago but has since been replaced by clay-based fining products.

The senators' move may be prompted as much by an ongoing trade dispute with France as by health concerns. Since the 1980s, the French government has prohibited imports of U.S. beef, claiming that it is concerned about the use of growth hormones on American cattle. All three of the senators, who are on the Senate Agriculture Committee, represent beef-producing states.

"It is ironic that the French, who have long banned the import of U.S. beef products based on unproven health concerns, now face a growing scandal in regard to their prized wine products," said Roberts. "They have argued that their consumers need to be warned of all the possible risks of foreign-produced food products. While the vast majority of French wine is probably perfectly safe, U.S. consumers are entitled to the same disclosure of information regarding French products."

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