Should two glasses of wine disqualify someone from getting behind the wheel? Italy's Agricultural Minister says no – and has ignited a storm of criticism in doing so.
Luca Zaia told the car magazine Quattroruote this week that attempts to completely ban drink-driving were "criminalising" Italy's national drink – wine – and damaging one of its most lucrative industries.
"We have to stop considering drunk someone who drinks two glasses," Mr Zaia said. "There is an ongoing criminalisation that is killing one of the most important 'made in Italy' sectors."
Mr Zaia said authorities should be focusing on road accidents caused by users of tranquilisers and other drugs. Italian laws allow a driver to have a maximum 0.5 grams of alcohol per litre of blood. Two glasses of wine can put a person above that limit.
Parliament is debating a total ban on drinking for drivers who have had their licence for less than three years. There have been strong calls within the conservative government to extend the new measure to all drivers.
Mr Zaia was quoted last year as saying there should be a total ban on drinking and driving. But in the interview with Quattroruote, he said the rules should not be changed because "at the current level, you are sober and perfectly capable of driving".
Health officials and relatives of accident victims condemned his comments. "[Mr Zaia's position] has little to do with scientific evidence and more to do with the economic interests of the wine industry," Emanuele Scafato, the head of the alcohol observatory at the National Health Institute, told RAI state TV yesterday.
In a statement, the Agriculture Ministry confirmed Mr Zaia's comments and said that encouraging Italy's traditional wine consumption was the best way to stop binge-drinking.
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