More than two dozen California wineries have been the subject of a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco alleging that the wines contain dangerously high levels of inorganic arsenic. The lawsuit was the subject of an earlier LBN report which covered the lawsuit from the plaintiffs’ perspective. The Wine Institute says that the allegations of the lawsuit are false and misleading. Wine Institute spokesperson Nancy Light discusses the issues from the defendants’ perspective in this report.
At the outset, Light says, it’s necessary to understand that arsenic is a common element in the environment, present to some degree in almost all foods and beverages people consume. The amounts found in wines are trace amounts, Light says. The U.S. government has not set limits on the amount of allowable arsenic in any food or beverage except for drinking water—the EPA standard of ten parts per billion.
The basis for that standard, Light points out, is the quantity of water we all consume daily, about two liters. The toxicology principle is “level of exposure.” On the other hand, the average person drinks very little wine each day. Comparing water to wine is a flawed concept, Light says. Several countries/regions including Canada, the European Union, and Japan have set limits ranging from 100ppb up to 1000ppb—10 to 100 times the level the EPA determined to be safe for drinking water.
Light notes that inorganic arsenic can be harmful in high doses. Given the modest amount of arsenic found in wines, a person would have to drink about three bottles of wine every day for a year to reach the level of arsenic exposure that the EPA considers dangerous. As to where the arsenic comes from, Light explains that the element is in the soil and the water, so grapes are naturally exposed to arsenic. The arsenic levels in California wines are well within the levels found in the rest of the world.
The Wine Institute has information from the Liquor Control Board in Ontario, Canada. The board tests every wine. The information from the Canadian tests covering a dozen years shows that the California wines are well within the levels of wines from around the world.
As to the seemingly higher concentration of arsenic in the less expensive California wines, Light says there is no apparent issue with the method of production that would result in higher arsenic levels. Again, Light points out, the levels of the wines in question are well within limits accepted as safe throughout the world. Light characterizes the legal action against the California wines as a nuisance lawsuit.
Nancy Light is the Vice President of Communications for the Wine Institute, San Francisco, California. Wine Institute is the voice for California wine representing more than 1,000 wineries and affiliated businesses from the beautiful and diverse wine regions throughout the state. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.