Arsenic in Your Wine?

arsenic and old laceThe Internet is aflame with the news, released from a commercial testing lab last week, that levels of arsenic up to 4-5 times what is permitted in water have been found in a variety of supermarket wines. Some of the producers of these wines are being sued by the company that did the testing.  Since everyone else is discussing this story I guess I should to.  Because the story is all over the Internet I won’t bother repeating all the gory details. Here are three thoughtful accounts if you want to read more. (Here, here, and here)

My take:

1. Arsenic is present in lots of foods and beverages. The arsenic that is present in wine is probably from the soil, water, or some of the processing compounds used by wineries. I wouldn’t assume, as some writers have, that it exists only in cheap wine. It was cheap wine that was tested, but I don’t see any reason to think expensive wines are immune since soil, water, and processing compounds are factors in all winemaking.

2. I’m not worried about my intake of arsenic. To my admittedly untrained eye, the levels look too small to worry about. Yes, the levels are in some cases 4- 5 times higher than what is permitted in water but I drink a lot more water than wine everyday. Frankly, if I were to worry about every news article suggesting my health was under threat, I would crawl under a rock. So this story can get in line if it’s intended to cause panic.

3. BeverageGrades, the company that did the testing, seems to have an interest in encouraging wineries to hire them to test their wines. And, as this story points out, their testing methodologies and the reliability of their results are not transparent. Is this a publicity scam designed to drum up business as many in the wine industry are asserting? Maybe.

4. Knowing the levels of harmful substances in our food supply is a good thing. High levels of arsenic are not something to be simply dismissed. There is too little regulation of food safety because government agencies are understaffed and overwhelmed. The only way to get the attention of the food and beverage industry is to sue them—otherwise they will ignore you. So I don’t think the lawsuit is evidence that there is a scam going on. This is the way business is done in the U.S.

So pop another cork and drink to more testing.

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