In a class action lawsuit, filed in the USA on Thursday, 28 wineries producing 83 wines have been accused of producing wines containing high levels of arsenic. The lawsuit alleges that the wines contain up to five times the levels of arsenic than the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows for water. The varieties listed include bottles from prominent brands and all retail for less than $10 per bottle.
The ensuing pandemonium in the media has so far not addressed the most important question: how much arsenic is safe?
Arsenic is a metal that occurs naturally in the air, soil and water in small amounts. Very small amounts can occur in wine, other beverages, fruit and so on. Larger amounts of arsenic can definitely be problematic. Arsenic is carcinogenic and has been linked to causing cardiovascular disease and respiratory illness.
As far as arsenic in wine is concerned, the U.S. doesn’t have specific rules about acceptable arsenic levels for wine, but many other countries do. For example, in Canada wines are allowed to have arsenic levels up to 100 parts per billion.
The tests performed by BeverageGrades, the lab whose research has been cited in the lawsuit, found that some wines had an arsenic content of 40-50 parts per billion. In the US drinking water may contain a maximum concentration of inorganic arsenic of 10 parts per billion. In the EU the total amount of arsenic permissible is 10 parts per billion.
In the lawsuit, four plaintiffs are said to be bringing the suit on behalf of California consumers. The plaintiffs are seeking a recall on all the wines with high arsenic levels, money back to the consumers who purchased these wines and wish to shed light on what they allege is a minimally regulated US wine industry.
The lawsuit is set to be defended with a number of producers already issuing press releases denying the allegations. Further, the Wine Institute of California has responded stating that the lawsuit was irresponsible and that the allegations were misleading and false.
As far as the lawsuit is concerned, and the question of how much arsenic is safe, we’ll just have to await the decision at trial.