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Wine Imports Decline Due to Prices, Doubts

July 24, 1986|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

Higher prices and a lingering safety question have led to a significant drop in wine imports, particularly those from Italy, during the first four months of 1986, according to a recently released report.

Total shipments were down about 18% between January and April of this year when compared to the same period in 1985, the Wine Investor, a Los Angeles-based trade newsletter, found.

In fact, of the 10 nations which import wine into the United States, only one, Hungary, experienced any improvement in sales over last year. But the Hungarian contribution of barely 100,000 gallons to the more than 28.4 million gallons of foreign wine brought to this country is minuscule, at best.

The biggest loser in total product reduction, for example, was Italy. The leading importer's shipments fell more than 3 million gallons, or 16%, in the time frame studied, the journal found.

The damage to the Italians is most likely the result of the methanol-contamination incident that rocked that nation's wine industry during April. Although none of the adulterated Italian wines ever reached this country, U.S. officials expressed doubts about the safety of all that nation's product for a brief period of time. At one point, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms even issued warnings to consumers to be cautious about consuming Italian wines because of the potential danger.

Also hard hit during the first part of this year was the German wine industry, whose imports to this country decreased more than 1.6 million gallons, for a dramatic decline of 34%. Portugal also experienced a 53% drop, according to the Wine Investor.

"Imports not only have fallen out of bed but are rolling down the stairs," the newsletter stated.

Predetermined Waistlines--The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has bad news for some overweight men frustrated with their inability to shed a midsection bulge. A study of male twins found that "human fatness and obesity may be largely dictated by genes," according to a report of the research by the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

The project, called one of the largest of its kind, charted the height, weight and body mass of 1,974 pairs of identical twins as opposed to 2,097 pairs of fraternal twins. The measurements were taken when the men where at age 20 and then again 25 years later.

Although few of the twins showed any sign of obesity at 20, the evidence of overweight participants was much more evident during the follow-up.

Essentially, the study concluded that the identical twins were much more likely to weigh roughly the same during the entire study period. So, whether the men where fat or slim at 45 was more likely to be the result of their genetic makeup. Such was not the case with the fraternal twins, who showed much more weight diversity in each pair, meaning that the individual was primarily responsible for the numbers on the bathroom scale.

Caribbean Fish Alert--A recent issue of California Morbidity, a newsletter from the state's Health Service Department, launched its first in a series of updates on food-related problems that can be encountered by summer travelers. However, the first topic is one vacationers would probably be better off not knowing because there is little that can be done to prevent the illness.

In recent months, numerous cases of Ciguatera fish poisoning have been reported in both residents and visitors to serveral Caribbean island locations, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and Nevis, according to the publication.

The poisoning, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting, paralysis, dizziness and temporary blindness, is caused by the consumption of contaminated tropical reef fish. The Ciquatoxin responsible for the problem infrequently originates in a single-celled marine plant. This same plant is often ingested by small fish who are, in turn, the prey of larger carnivorous fish. Once ingested, the toxin accumulates in the larger fish, which are the varieties likely to become part of the human food chain.

Release of the toxin in the sea is unpredictable and is believed to occur after there are coral reef disturbances caused by storms, earthquakes or man. Some of the fish from the region implicated in the report include red snapper, barracuda, sea bass and others, the report found.

"There is no practical way for consumers to identify affected fish since the appearance, smell and taste are unchanged (although a slight metallic taste may occasionally be noticed)," according to California Morbidity.

Furthermore, properly cooking the fish carrying the Ciguatoxin will not destroy the poison.

The department's only recommendation is to refrain from eating suspect fish from tropical reef areas, not only in the Caribbean, but also in subtropical areas of the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Trouble With Potatoes--Recent advertisements by the Potato Board got a little carried away in praise of the tuber. A series of ads commissioned by the trade group claimed that spuds were "packed" with Vitamin C, iron, fiber and Vitamin B6, according to a recent story in the FDA Consumer magazine.

A portion of the promotion was called into question by the Better Business Council's National Advertising Division. The group took issue with whether the amount of iron found in the potato, about 4% to 6% of the Recommended Daily Allowance, was actually significant.

A review by the Potato Board found that potatoes are not a good source of iron and that any reference to the mineral would be deleted in the future.

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