Sonoma County’s wine business is benefiting from the brand new federal pointers on alcohol consumption

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Michael O'Looney of Martinelli Winery, left, talks with a group of Gallo employees as they taste wine at the Martinelli Winery near Forestville, Friday, July 31, 2020.  (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2020

The California wine and beer industry won a victory on Tuesday when the federal government reversed course and rejected policy proposals urging men to limit themselves to one drink of alcohol per day, half the current recommended limit.

The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year overruled a finding by a scientific panel that alcohol beverages are an “unhealthy substance” and recommended that men limit themselves to one drink per day, which is the current rate Women applicable standard. The recommendations are part of the U.S. Nutritional Guidelines for Americans, which are revised every five years.

In a statement, the departments noted that the panel’s finding to make the change to one drink per day for men “was not overweight in evidence”. It gave the same rationale for repealing another body’s proposal to reduce the consumption of sugar added to beverages and food.

Some industry analysts had warned that the proposed guidelines would reduce consumption of wine and other alcoholic beverages in a market where sales remain essentially unchanged. The Wine Institute, the premier wine trade association for California winemakers, launched a campaign to defend existing guidelines on alcohol consumption.

The Wine Institute, along with the Beer Institute and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, argued that the body of science did not support changing the current guidelines that have been in place since 1990. “We Support Long-standing Science The assessment is reflected in today’s guidelines,” said Tracy Genesen, General Counsel of the Wine Institute.

Federal agencies came to this view, although recent studies have raised more concerns about alcohol. For example, the panel’s report found that alcohol consumption was “likely causally linked to seven cancers”. “The emerging evidence identified in the committee’s report does not reflect the preponderance of evidence at the time,” the departments said in a statement.

“It’s really good news,” said Rob McMillan, executive vice president of the Silicon Valley Bank’s wine division. “As soon as the government makes a finding, others begin to use it to support other positions.”

Michael Haney, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners, said he was glad the decision had been made on the “majority of the scientific evidence out there”. Haney also noted that the local industry needed some good news as it was already teetering after the pandemic closed tasting rooms and that summer’s forest fires ruined a significant portion of the north coast’s grape harvest.

“Right now, our wineries are looking for stability and predictability,” he said.

The decision was a blow to those pushing for stricter leadership, but not surprising given the alcohol industry’s lobbying influence. Last week the sector managed to persuade Congress to provide permanent tax breaks that would lower the federal excise tax on alcoholic beverages signed by President Donald Trump.

“I am disappointed, but not surprised. The alcohol industry is very attractive and appears to be getting involved in the process, ”said Carson Benowitz-Frederick, research manager for Alcohol Justice, a San Rafael-based advocacy group calling for higher taxes and additional regulation on alcohol.

Despite the setback, Benowitz-Frederick noted that the recommendations contained considerable caution regarding the consumption of alcoholic beverages. In particular, the guidelines did not recommend “that people who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason”. This could hurt recruitment of new drinkers, he said, noting that the wine industry, as part of its messaging, had been conducting research since the late 1980s showing that a Mediterranean diet, accompanied by moderate drinking of red wine, helped curb heart disease .

“By all means, it is said that drinking less is healthier,” said Benowitz-Frederick.

The guidelines included a notable section on the calories found in beer, wine, and spirits – which has become a bigger problem as younger drinkers flock to hard selters with fewer than 100 calories per serving.

“Alcoholic beverages can contain calories from alcohol and other ingredients like soda, juice, and added sugars. It’s important to consider the ingredients and serving size, ”the guidelines say.

Benowitz-Frederick called this “comforting messaging” for American consumers. “Public health services are starting to actively steer the conversation away from some of the dangerous alcohol marketing points,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.