French inquiry into alcohol-harmed babies

In what is believed to be the first case of its kind in Europe, a French public prosecutor has started a criminal investigation into the damage caused by alcohol to unborn babies.

The public prosecutor's office in Lille in northern France has started a preliminary inquiry, accusing "X", or persons unknown, of "placing the lives of others in danger, accidental wounding and fraudulent marketing".

The potential defendants, if the investigation progresses, are the French alcohol industry and the French government for failing to warn women of the dangers of drinking, even moderately, while pregnant.

The case arises from a campaign in Roubaix, a depressed industrial town in northern France, which has a serious problem with alcohol-damaged babies and even "second-generation" damage: mothers who were mentally damaged while still in the womb, who go on to drink heavily when pregnant themselves.

The campaign has been led partly by a father and son team, Maurice and Benoît Titran, who are, respectively, a leading paediatrician in Roubaix and a lawyer. Benoît Titran, lawyer for the Esper pressure group, made a formal complaint to the public prosecutor in the spring.

The case arises just as the French alcohol industry - and especially struggling producers of medium and low-quality wine - are putting pressure on the government to relax the existing rules restricting the advertising and marketing of alcoholic drinks.

The Esper group and other campaigners want the government to force all drinks companies to label their bottles with a warning about drinking and pregnancy.

"The alcohol producers know what the dangers are," Benoît Titran said. "We are not necessarily trying to force litigation, on the American model.We just want to force the state to accept its responsibilities."

"Many mothers have come forward to bear witness to the problems they have endured with their children, from physical malformations to mental and nervous deficiencies, even after drinking only moderately while pregnant."

More than 6,000 babies born in France each year are believed to suffer from mental or physical damage from "passive consumption" of alcohol in the womb. The problem is especially acute in the depressed, former industrial areas in the north and east of France and in some "overseas" départements and territories in the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean.

The Lille public prosecutor's office has already questioned officials of one of the large French supermarket chains, Auchan. They plan to interview representatives of wine, beers and spirits producers and the French health ministry.

A serious slump in sales of French table wines and moderate quality "appellation" wines has already produced a backlash against existing laws restricting the advertising of wine and other alcoholic drinks. Any attempt by the government to associate wine-drinking with medical problems will be fiercely resisted by the French wine industry.

Dr Benoît Fleury, from Bordeaux, a specialist in alcoholic problems, said yesterday: "There is in France a state of denial among wine-producers, members of parliament, some journalists and the whole of the drinks lobby about this special danger of alcohol consumption by pregnant women.

"In the present circumstances [the wine sales crisis], any attempt to warn young women officially of the dangers will be seen by the wine-growers as another blow to their survival," Dr Fleury said.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Buddy DeFranco
people
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month