Winemakers Sued for Arsenic in Their Wines--Plaintiff's Attorney Brian Kabateck Explains the Lawsuit

Arsenic in apple juice and rice has been the subject of warnings to consumers. Now, a proposed class action lawsuit has been filed in California alleging that some top-selling wines have high levels of arsenic. In this report, Brian Kabateck, attorney for the plaintiffs, explains the litigation.

Brian Kabateck

Brian Kabateck

The lawsuit claims that some wines have four or five times the amount of arsenic allowed by the FDA in drinking water (10 parts per billion). Kabateck explains that Kevin Hicks, who was in the alcoholic beverage industry for fifteen years, left to start a company specializing in testing beverages. One of the tests involved wine, a beverage that is not heavily regulated. Tests on 1,308 bottles of wine revealed eighty bottles that had excessive amounts of arsenic, based on the FDA standard for drinking water. Kabateck says that, learning of this, his firm had additional tests performed, and afterward, the lawsuit was filed.

Kabateck notes that the higher levels of arsenic were mostly found in wines at the low end of the price scale. The highest arsenic levels were usually in blush wines (like a white zinfandel) or white wines (like a chardonnay).

Kabateck says that it is unclear how the arsenic finds its way into the wines. However, the tests show that the problem arsenic is inorganic in nature. Kabateck points out that organic arsenic is the substance found in apple juice, rice, and other foods. “It’s all around us.” Kabateck suggests that arsenic could be a clarifying agent, or something used to make wine sparkle. “We just don’t know.”

The greater concentration of arsenic in newer wines might suggest that aging helps to remove the element, but that is speculation. Kabateck says that one objective of the lawsuit is to bring the wine industry into the public eye so that people will know what they are drinking when they buy wine.

The U.S. standard (10 ppb) is considerably lower than the Canadian standard, for example (200 ppb). As to possible health problems caused by arsenic, Kabateck says that the medical literature links arsenic to cancer. It can cause respiratory problems and diabetes, among other things. There is also a question of how much arsenic any individual can consume safely over a lifetime.

Kabateck hopes that some winemakers will want to step forward early and respond positively to resolving the problem. The lawsuit is asking for recalls of some of the wines and refunds to consumers who bought those wines.

Brian S. Kabateck is the Founding and Managing Partner of Kabateck Brown Kellner, LLP in Los Angeles, California. He is a nationally recognized and respected consumer attorney and a preeminent leader in the fight to ensure access to the justice system.  He is a powerful advocate in the courtroom and at the California State Capitol for consumers’ rights and protections. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.