The Mendès France Milk Regime

Alcoholism as a Problem of Agricultural Subsidies, 1954–1955

in French Politics, Culture & Society

In 1954, Pierre Mendès France committed the state to curbing alcoholism as part of an effort to reorient important agricultural sectors and improve French economic performance, using milk as a symbol of his government's new direction. While Mendès France's milk drinking was often portrayed as the whim of a maverick politician, this article shows instead that it was the expression of a broadly based movement to modernize the economy. Challenging the view of an insular state that exclusively served the powerful alcohol lobbies, this article contends that the success of alcohol reform hinged on Mendès France's ability to overcome parliament and pit other economic sectors and a public health movement against those lobbies. Although it would require the more centralized authority of the Fifth Republic to implement lasting reforms to the alcohol sector, the Mendès France government helped raise public awareness about the purported link between alcoholism and agricultural subsidies that kept uncompetitive producers on the land at the taxpayer's expense.

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