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Federal Concern Stalls Winery’s Plan to Tout Possible Health Benefits

November 12, 1992

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Objections by several federal agencies have prompted Beringer Vineyards to suspend government-approved plans to tout the possible health benefits of wine by putting promotional tags on bottles.

Beringer halted the campaign when its lawyers learned that officials of the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission had objections to the materials, winery spokeswoman Mora Cronin said Wednesday.

The news came just weeks after vintners hailed federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Oct. 15 approval of the necktags featuring snippets from a highly publicized ″60 Minutes″ segment on wine and health.

It was the first time the ATF, a Treasury Department agency that regulates labeling for alcoholic beverages, had allowed a winery to promote studies that contend moderate wine drinking can reduce the risk of heart disease.

″We’re still hopeful that something can work out here, but we’re obviously not distributing these in November as we originally had planned,″ said Beringer’s Cronin. ″We want to make sure that we are in compliance with all three agencies.″

Representatives of the three agencies and Surgeon General Antonia Novello planned to meet within the next two weeks to establish new guidelines for alcohol health claims, ATF spokesman Tom Hill said.

Novello said in a Nov. 4 speech that she had serious concerns about the planned labels.

″We’ll come up with some regulations to define everything,″ Hill said. ″It’s no longer going to look specifically at red wine. It will be for alcohol in general.″

Hill said he expected new regulations that govern therapeutic claims to be approved within two weeks.

Beringer had planned to make 100,000 ″neckhangers″ available to its distributors this month. Other wineries were expected to follow suit with similar promotional campaigns to capitalize on the health claims.

Winemakers played down the new development as a minor setback.

″Sometimes when you take a large step forward, you have to take a small step back - but you still make progress,″ said Herb Schmidt, vice president for government relations at Robert Mondavi Winery.

Schmidt stressed that the wine industry was interested in establishing solid guidelines for the future.

The tags contained excerpts from the ″60 Minutes″ segment, which aired last November and again in July - part of an interview with Boston University researcher Curtis Ellison - and no additional commentary.

In the excerpt, Ellison speaks about the possible advantages of moderate red wine drinking. But he also addresses problems associated with alcohol abuse.

The ATF and the wineries believed the six paragraphs gave consumers enough information to put the health studies in context. But Hill said the ATF should have consulted with other federal agencies.

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