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Wine industry urges drinking, driving

France’s wine industry is fighting back against a government campaign to discourage drunk driving.

France’s wine industry wants drivers to know: It’s OK to have a drink for the road. Or three.

InsertArt(2070281)THE $18 BILLION-A-YEAR wine industry is fighting back against a government campaign to discourage drunk driving. It claims the government is scaring people away from ordering a glass when they go out and points to a 15 percent drop in wine sales at restaurants.

“People are so afraid of the police these days that they’re not drinking any wine at all,” Pascal Bobillier-Monnot, director of CNAOC national wine producers’ association, said Friday.

Wine makers have always promoted moderate drinking to comply with the country’s blood-alcohol limit of .05. But they say the government is overreacting when it tells drivers that the safest way to stay out of trouble is not to drink at all.

“We believe the government has a duty of providing information which it has failed,” said Pascal Rousseaux, director of Afivin, an umbrella group for wine producers, distributors and retailers.

Diners should know they can enjoy “two or three glasses” with their meal and still be fit to drive, Rousseaux said.

Since taking office last year, the center-right government of French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has made road safety a priority. Police have stepped up checks and toughened punishment. The government says road deaths fell more than 20 percent to under 5,000 in the first ten months of 2003 from the same period last year — still among the highest rates in Europe relative to population size.


Amid the tightened enforcement and government warnings, sales of wine in restaurants have also fallen by about 15 percent in just months, wine producers say.

“There’s no question about it. The enforcement effort and the government’s rhetoric have led to a drop in wine consumption in France,” Bobillier-Monnot said.

Industry groups are planning their own campaign to persuade motorists that abstaining isn’t necessarily the answer. Afivin plans a $350,000 initiative to distribute alcohol breath tests to restaurants across France starting next year.

By doing so, it hopes to convince those motorists who have stopped drinking altogether that they don’t need to be quite so worried.

Transport ministry spokeswoman Emmanuelle Dormond defended the government’s stance.

“In case of doubt the easiest way to be sure you don’t break the limit is to refrain from drinking,” she said.

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