TO the anger of the wine industry and disbelief of lovers of a good drop worldwide, the French Government has told its people to stop drinking wine.
The French Health Ministry has made alcohol one of the chief villains in a drive against cancer.
"The consumption of alcohol, and especially wine, is discouraged," say guidelines drawn from the findings of the National Cancer Institute.
A single glass of wine a day will raise the chance of contracting cancer by up to 168 per cent, claims the ministry's brochure.
Forget those 1980s findings that antioxidants in wine were good for health, according to the French experts. "Small daily doses of alcohol are the most harmful," institute president Dominique Maraninchi said. "There is no amount, however small, which is good for you."
Authorities elsewhere have been telling people in recent years to go dry if they want to stay healthy. But the advice was especially sobering, coming from the Government of France, where wine is part of life and the national heritage.
The pleasantly illustrated ministry brochure makes grim reading. The institute collated hundreds of international studies and summarised the relation between types of cancer with food, drink and lifestyle.
Apart from wine, the dangerous stuff includes red meat, charcuterie and salt.
A pave de rum-steak might not sound so mouth-watering after reading: "The risk of colon-rectal cancer rises by 29 per cent per 100g portion of red meat per day and 21 per cent per 50g portion of charcuterie." Alcohol facilitates cancers of the mouth, larynx, oesophagus, colon-rectum and breast, the guidelines say. Wine producers are crying foul, accusing the health lobby of trying to kill one of France's glories. They note the suspicious coincidence that France now has its first teetotal president. Nicolas Sarkozy sips mineral water and orange juice when all around him are knocking back the champagne and burgundy.
"This persecution of wine has to stop," said the General Association of Wine Producers.
The growers say the scientific evidence is contradictory and they point to a World Health Organisation study that found moderate consumption helped to prevent cancer. Xavier de Volontat, president of the wine producers' association in the southwestern Languedoc region, said: "The extremists must not be allowed to take consumers hostage ... wine consumption has dropped by 50 per cent over the last 20 years in France, but cancer has increased. You have to admit, that's a paradox.
"We never said that alcohol is not dangerous for health. We are for responsible, reasonable and moderate consumption ... it is not in our interest to see our consumers dying of cancer or in car accidents."
One of the comments to the story: "Lies damn lies and statistics. You might not live any longer, it will just seem like it."