Wine: Born to Kill?

With all of the articles out there this week about “killer wine”, I feel the need to comment. 

If you are not aware, on Monday of this week, a man who owns a beverage testing company which test for impurities, like heavy metals, in a variety of beverage and food products, released to the press his intention to file a lawsuit against 28 wineries in the California region based on the “dangerously high” levels of Arsenic in their wines. Arsenic is an odorless, tasteless heavy metal, which in large quantities can cause cancer, mental issues, and,  if left untreated, death.  However, despite what popular media and even respected new organizations are saying, this is not by any means the whole story. 

I have read many of the different articles out there regarding the “high” levels of arsenic in California wines. When combined with my knowledge of the wine industry, food safety and thorough personal research, I have personally come to the conclusion that, while we should certainly continue to watch these levels, there is nothing immediate to worry about. 

Arsenic is primarily a natural organic element found in everything including our own bodies. It is true that our bodies find the element difficult to process in its inorganic (but still naturally occurring) form, which is why its use is highly regulated. Arsenic is used in medicines, like warfarin a popular blood thinner, and in cigarettes, which many people ingest willingly. It is not inherently evil, seeing as how it is found in wine and health food products world-wide. In fact, the trace amounts of arsenic found in wine could be directly related to the health benefits of wine. (This is purely conjecture and I do not know if there have been any studies looking into this concept directly, though I would absolutely sign up as a guinea pig for that medical study!) But these products have been tested in many countries for “acceptable levels” based on how these products are processed by the body and quantities normally ingested. 

The defendants are claiming that the arsenic found in the wine is an inorganic arsenic, which is definitely more toxic than the organic kind. They also claim that the origins are unknown, but my guess is the non-organic methods of pest control that many if not all of these brands use is a leading cause. While these concerns are legitimate, the same levels could be found in any over produced wine region and speaks more heavily for unknown wine regions and organic growing methods, than it does against California wines in general. However, both types of arsenic, organic and inorganic, are found naturally in soils around the world and appear in detectable quantities in juices, fruits, and grains. 

The man who initially published the article regarding Californian wines, including many brand names that purchase and use grapes from outside of California, owns a company responsible for the testing of edibles and other products for impurities. He has stated as a desired outcome of his lawsuit, a refund to customers, and heavier regulation of California wine. (Sounds a bit like he’s more interested in his own company’s benefit here, as opposed to what is good for the wine.) I’m definitely all for the regulation of the wine making process to help limit any potential toxins used, like pesticides and synthetic fining products, however it should be to benefit the consumer, not testing companies. 

Another fact that the writer of the original article and lawsuit overlooks is that while, yes, the levels of arsenic in California wines are higher than that which is acceptable in our drinking water. It is still less than what Canada has determined is acceptable for their drinking water! It was only in 2002 that the EPA changed the standard for arsenic in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion, which only came into effect in 2006. Most of the wines measured met the 50 ppb quota. Canada’s standard for arsenic in drinking water is 100 ppb, which is the same that the European Union has determined is safe for foods for children.  France allows 200 ppb in wine. 

All of the science that helps make these determinations measure the effect of daily arsenic absorption over an individuals LIFE 

Honestly, no human being, professional winos included, should be drinking as much wine per day, let alone a lifetime, as they do water, so obviously the actual amount of arsenic being ingested would still be less than that of the acceptable level in water. 

I do find it interesting and noteworthy, that in testing, the defendants organization determined that the cheaper the wine, the higher levels of arsenic. This probably has to do a lot with the fining methods used on low-cost products in order to main the low-cost production and high profit margins. Considering the questionable profit seeking methods we’ve seen in other monopoly companies, such as Nestle, this is not surprising. 

In Conclusion, I encourage all of you to try quality fine wines, from new and emerging regions, like Sicily and the Limari valley of Chile, or whatever else you can come across. New regions tend to be less concerned with high profit margins and you get a better value over all. Absolutely, look into the background of the wines you drink, especially if you are sincerely concerned with high arsenic levels, but don’t worry about dying tomorrow if you still want to have a glass of Kroger’s own Bay Bridge. Also, don’t let them scare you away from drinking California wines at large. Plenty of companies that are based in California purchase their wine from outside properties, like Cupcake, who is mentioned on their list. Cupcake purchases or grows all of their grapes in the best recognized region for their style; ie, Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina and Riesling from Faust, Germany. 

Let me know your thoughts below, and I hope you all continue to enjoy you wine, trace arsenic or not. 

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3 thoughts on “Wine: Born to Kill?

  1. Thanks a bunch for sharing. I didn’t get alarmed when I saw the initial press releases, but after a week of everyone rehashing it start’s to breed concern. You made some valid points, that gives the novice information to research and follow regarding the potential case.

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    • I am very glad you found it helpful! With the way our news and media organizations sensationalize everything I felt it was important to at least put some facts out there.

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