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Wine Labeling Law

Did you know that the US is known in Spain as the “Country of Laws”? And if Spain refers to our country in this way, I would confidently make the assumption that our reputation far extends past the Iberian Peninsula as an obsessively “judicial” country. After the most recent bout with the Food and Drug Administration wanting a warning placed on all wine bottles of possible food allergens from eggs, wheat and fish, I would tend to agree with our international reputation. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act states that all major food allergens must be labeled in ‘plain, common language’ on any food and drink products that may contain them.

As it stands, the wine industry is already required by law to label bottles both with the use of sulfites and the potential risk of birth defects, driving impairment and unspecific “health problems”. I’m curious how far this need to label everything in minuscule detail will go? Should I be warned that my teeth may turn red if I drink red wine? Maybe that wine may stain my clothing if spilled? When will we put limits as to what is common sense and what is truly valuable information to put on a label?
Personal Thoughts:

1. You’re living in a cave if you honestly don’t know that drinking wine excessively can impair you physically, hurt those around you, and potentially kill anything inside you.

2. What are “unspecific health problems”? Sounds incredibly vague and an ideal way to cover someone’s ass from a legal suit.

3. According to the FDA 1 out of 100 are sensitive to sulfites and approximately 5% of asthmatics have a reaction to wine. If we consider the millions of people who are not sensitive to sulfites, how many blame their negative reaction to a particular wine on sulfites? Many. How many people actually know what sulfites are? Few.

4. Are more people sensitive to red wine than white wine? Yes. Red wines have a larger amount of histamines than white wines. Histamine is a naturally (notice the word “natural”) occurring amine released by the body during allergic reactions generated by bacteria and yeast in the alcohol. There is a tiny amount produced by alcohol and even less of this amount is absorbed by the body if ingested. Obviously, if you drink too much, the level of histamines will increase producing allergy like symptoms. Here’s the big catch, histamines can ALSO be found in cheese, tuna and meat! Once again, how many people know what histamines are? Few. How many will blame their negative experience of a wine on histamines because they heard red wine has it? Many.

Taken from the American Academy of Allergies Asthma and Immunology (AAAI):

What is a Food Allergy

  • Food allergy is a group of disorders distinguished by the way the body’s immune system responds to specific food proteins.
  • In children, the following six foods cause the majority of food allergy reactions: milk, egg, peanuts, wheat, soy, and tree nuts (ex: walnuts and pecans). Children will often outgrow an allergy to eggs, milk, wheat and soy.
  • In adults, four foods cause the majority of allergic reactions: peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.
  • Symptoms of food allergies range from a tingling sensation in the mouth, swelling of the tongue and the throat, difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, to death. Symptoms typically appear within minutes to two hours after the person has eaten the food to which he or she is allergic.
  • Individuals with food allergy and asthma appear to be at an increased risk for severe or fatal allergic reactions.

Food Allergies to Wine

The current draft legislation is based on claims by people who have reported that they suffer from allergens used in making wine. What ingredients are they referring to? Egg whites, a milk protein called casein, and isinglass – a substance derived from fish guts. All three ingredients are typically used as an agent to clarify wine by naturally bonding with yeast, bacteria and excess tannins and forming a larger and heavier molecule that will sink to the bottom of the barrel and later be filtered out before bottling. What remains is clear unadulterated wine.

According to the statistic by the AAAI, the majority ADULTS are primarily affected by one particular agent in the process of wine making, isinglass, or fish guts. Even if one makes the argument that there could be some remnants of isinglass after bottling, there still haven’t been any studies done that have concluded without a doubt that the percentage remaining is significant enough to stimulate an allergic reaction! Therefore, by approving a legislation like this, we are encouraging consumer ignorance by labeling wines with inconclusive research.

Climbing on My Soapbox

Why am I frustrated? I’m angry because time and time again, wine is considered the bad guy. I am tired of constantly explaining to Europeans that we have to put a warning on everything from coffee cups – warning the consumer that the coffee inside is HOT – to telling people that they can’t drive if they drink too much. Who doesn’t know this information?! To require that all wine labels now warn people that they may have an allergic reaction if they drink wine is over-the-top and incredibly costly to the wine industry. In no way am I condoning a product if it can severally harm a population like the tobacco industry has, as a result of the hazardous chemicals they have so discreetly placed in cigarettes to increase addiction, but wine doesn’t fall in this category. In addition, how many people actually care what the label says? Do you think the people who lack the ability to think critically or have common sense even look at the label? No! If someone wants to harm themselves or someone else, they will do so despite what the back of a bottle says.

Potential Solution

What will, however, make a difference is education. By providing children a holistic education, you are giving them the tools to think critically. Critical thinking is the ability to take any subject and analyze it from several different angles and sources. The fact that we have to label bleach as a substance that cannot be drank tells me that we need to focus our attention on this particular skill.

What am I proposing? I am proposing that we all take a moment to stand up for positive education, critical thinking and personal responsibility. Wine is a beautiful substance that ought to be celebrated. As mentioned in our article about teaching children about wine, there are also several ways to aid children to think critically about what they interact with on a moment by moment bases in order to promote both intellectual and emotional learning. To continually harp on everything negative about wine will only create more fear and more ignorance. By thinking critically, we are providing one another the advantage of not only taking responsibility for how WE PERSONALLY interact with our surroundings, but we are also using logic as a tool. Instead of saying that the wine made you sick, why not take responsibility for your personal illness by considering whether your illness is a result of the wine, a food you ate, or something else entirely. It is not to say that you may not have a food allergy, but let’s take a moment to consider the big picture first.

Labels are a wonderful tool. Let’s find ways to use them not only effectively and practically, but also in a positive and informative manner.


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