Minimum pricing closer, healthy virus, wine stocks

Scots lay down the law

Scottish courts have cleared the way for minimum alcohol pricing. The proposed price is to be 50p (80 cents) per unit, which for wine means a minimum price of £4.50 and for a bottle of spirits £14.

The Scottish Parliament wanted to introduce minimum price in 2012 but the powerful Scotch whisky industry challenged the Government by arguing the plans breached European law.

The Government south of the border will be keeping a sharp lookout on how this works. If it does reduce alcohol consumption, England and Wales will be sure to follow.

Australia is no longer tied to the mother country as it was 30 years ago, but there is still an influence and if minimum alcohol pricing is introduced and seen to work in the UK there is a high probability it will make its way here.

The health and alcohol debate has quietened down in recent times but it’s still bubbling away and will come to the fore again. Be prepared.

A virus, neurons, alcohol and health

Published in The Conversation on October 26: A virus could manipulate neurons to reduce the desire to drink, by Yifeng Cheng, PhD candidate, and Jun Wang, assistant professor of neuroscience and experimental therapeutics, both from Texas A&M University Health Science Centre.

The opening sentence outlines the enormity of the problem of alcohol in the US, which we estimate is replicated in other Western countries.

Cheng and Wang say about 17 million adults and more than 850,000 adolescents had some problems with alcohol in the US in 2012. They say:

“Quitting alcohol, like quitting any drug, is hard to do. One reason may be that heavy drinking can actually change the brain.”

They claim to have identified a way to mitigate the changes and reduce the desire to drink using a genetically engineered virus.

“Heavy alcohol use can cause changes in a region of the brain, called the striatum. This part of the brain processes all sensory information (what we see and what we hear, for instance), and sends out orders to control motivational or motor behaviour.”

They continue:

“There are two main types of neurons in the striatum: D1 and D2. While both receive sensory information from other parts of the brain, they have nearly opposite functions.

“D1-neurons control ‘go’ actions, which encourage behaviour. D2-neurons, on the other hand, control ‘no-go’ actions, which inhibit behaviour. Think of D1-neurons like a green traffic light and D2-neurons like a red traffic light.

“Dopamine affects these neurons in different ways. It promotes D1-neuron activity, turning the green light on, and suppresses D2-neuron function, turning the red light off. As a result, dopamine promotes ‘go’ and inhibits ‘no-go’ actions on reward behaviour.”

In plain speak, alcohol turns the green light on and keeps it on. Hence the reason for drinking more and to excess.

The academics took the traditional route of using mice to test their theories. They offered the mice two bottles from which to drink: one plain water, the other with 20 per cent alcohol. After a time the mice were hooked and had a habit.

Cheng and Wang:

“We then used a process called viral mediated gene transfer to manipulate the ‘go’ or ‘no-go’ neurons in mice that had developed a drinking habit.

“Mice were infected with a genetically engineered virus that delivers a gene into the ‘go’ or ‘no-go’ neurons. That gene then drives the neurons to express a specific protein.

“After the protein is expressed, we injected the mice with a chemical that recognises and binds to it. This binding can inhibit or promote activity in these neurons, letting us turn the green light off (by inhibiting ‘go’ neurons) or turn the red light (by exciting ‘no-go’ neurons) back on.”

There is more and the full article can be read here. Treatment is still some way off but the signs are encouraging.

For and against

There is an interesting debate ongoing about global wine production. The International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) says global wine production is entering a 20-year low. According to the OIV:

  • Argentina is to report about a 30-35 per cent reduction
  • Chile is said to be down about 20 per cent
  • Brazil has a possible 50 per cent reduction
  • South Africa is down about 20 per cent
  • France is 10-15 per cent down

On the other side of the debate, Lewis Perdue, who produces Wine Industry Insight, says:

“No, 2016 wine production did NOT drop 5 per cent as headlined elsewhere. That might eventually be the case. Or it might not. But it has not happened so far. Because 2016 is not over.

“In a poorly written press release sent out yesterday, the OIV estimated that production might be down when all the numbers are in.

“Which they are not. The fat lady has entered the opera house, but she has not sung.

“And to make matters worse for the credibility of its estimate, the OIV states that its 2015 production numbers are still ‘provisional’.

“Then, in what appears to be an attempt to cast events as darkly as possible, the OIV states (in present tense as opposed to more appropriate future tense), that 2016 ‘ranks among the three poorest years for production since 2000’.

“While true on its face, context is missing. Indeed, the data presented seems to indicate that production is within normal annual global variations.”

Perdue has a point. The vintage in Europe is not completed and the OIV is making assumptions, more so because the OIV admits the 2015 figures are still provisional.

Make of it what you will. Is it better to wait until the facts are in rather than speculate? Does the world really need more wine or does it need better prices for the wine it already produces? TKR backs the latter.

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