Claim: California wine contains dangerous levels of arsenic.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, March 2015]
CBS in San Francisco published an article on the topic that provided some additional details behind the story. According to that article and others, the class action lawsuit was initiated by Kevin Hicks of BeverageGrades, "a private company offering lab testing, quality assurance and certification of alcoholic beverages for suppliers, restaurants, retailers and ultimately, the end consumer."
The CBS article summarized Hicks' claims, nothing an inverse relationship between the cost of wines and the levels of arsenic they contained and the lack of an explanation to account for that phenomenon:
So far there is no theory on why this might be happening, but Hicks' tests showed an interesting pattern. "The lower the price of wine on a per-liter basis, the higher the amount of arsenic," he said.
Hicks' list of low-priced, high-arsenic wines includes Trader Joe's famous Two-Buck Chuck White Zinfandel, which tested at three times the limit. A bottle of Menage a Trois Moscato was four times the limit and a Franzia Blush had five time the EPA limit for drinking water
Critics also dismissed as mere scare-mongering that Hicks used safety standards established for drinking water and applied them to wine, noting that consumers imbibe far more water than they do wine:
The average adult generally consumes somewhere around two liters of water per day. If they're seriously lucky, or seriously happy, an adult might consume a full liter (almost 1.5 bottles) of wine on one particular day. But seven days per week? Then we're into serious alcoholism territory. And that's what you'd have to do in order to get yourself a dose of arsenic that approached the amount that the EPA says you should be able to consume safely in your drinking water.
Here's another data point for you. Apple juice and pear juice contain up to two or three times as much arsenic as drinking water as a matter of course. The Food and Drug Administration has known this for years. In fact the acceptable threshold for traces of arsenic in juice is much higher than it is for water, a fact that the FDA explains by simply saying that people don't drink as much juice as they do water.
In short, the FDA is not worried about arsenic levels in juice that are up to five times higher in juice than in water.
And what were the most egregious results that BeverageGrades found in their testing of these mass-market wines? Their worst offender was a bottle of Franzia's White Grenache which had five times the amount [of arsenic] allowed in drinking water.
This is basically a bullshit, scaremongering story that BeverageGrades is very cunningly using to drum up business.
The others were at or above that limit, including Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck White Zinfandel, which tested at more than twice that standard.
Arsenic is prevalent in the natural environment in air, soil and water, and in food. As an agricultural product, wines from throughout the world contain trace amounts of arsenic as do juices, vegetables, grains and other alcohol beverages. There is no research that shows that the amounts found in wine pose a health risk to consumers.
The U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the agency that regulates wine, beer and spirits, monitors wines for compounds, including arsenic, as part of its testing program. While there are no established limits in the U.S., several countries, including the European Union, have established limits of 100 parts per billion or higher for wine. California wine exports are tested by these governments and are below the established limits.
O'Donnell, Ben. "Lawsuit Claims California Wines Contain Dangerous Arsenic Levels". Wine Spectator. 19 March 2015. CBS San Francisco. "Your Favorite Wine Might Contain High Levels of Deadly Arsenic" 19 March 2015. CBS This Morning. "'Very High Levels Of Arsenic' in Top-Selling Wines." 19 March 2015.