Back in 2014 people starting getting nervous about drinking wine. Really nervous. Why? Because social media blew up with reports that many very popular, cheap wines had arsenic in them. And arsenic is scary stuff. The element is a known toxin, most commonly associated with rat poisoning. It has been used as a plot device in film and books as a poison that can be used gradually -- and is a favorite poison on True Crime shows like Dateline. When the internet started talking about wine arsenic levels many people took notice: it's definitely not something you want to expose yourself to.
We Won't Keep You In Suspense About Wine & Arsenic Levels
First things first: we're not ones for shock value so here's a spoiler alert. You are not going to die of arsenic poisoning if you drink your favorite California reds. Even the cheap ones (but please come in so we can introduce you to some exceptional options at a low price point that we guarantee are tastier than the mass-produced reds at the center of this "scandal"). Yes, that's right: this is an example of false information spread by the Internet. So how wine arsenic levels become such a hot topic?
The BeverageGrades Lawsuit
In 2010 Kevin Hicks started a company called "BeverageGrades". The lab, in Denver, tests wine, beer, and spirits for dangerous chemicals. In 2014 Kevin Hicks was one of several plaintiffs named as bringing a class action suit above several large, mass-producers of wines in California, like Franzia. People got word that a lawsuit was filed over red wine arsenic levels and it quickly spiraled into a fear that all red wine arsenic levels were high and, by definition, dangerous.
Deconstructing The Fear
Articles about a deadly rat poison being found in wine is sure to get a lot of clicks. And bloggers jumped on the bandwagon, sharing the basic information about the claim. Those went something like that: Major Wine Companies Sued Due To High Arsenic Levels in Wine.
That's enough to make anyone take notice, click, and share. Luckily, some wine bloggers looked closely at the case -- uncovering and sharing valuable information that quelled some of the fear.
Winedom is One of Earliest Sites to Offer Analysis of Lawsuit
In April of 2014 Winedom -- a small wine blog based in Athens, Greece -- provided an excellent article that looked at the case through the lens of the American legal system to help lift the veil. You can read the article here. The blog looked at some serious red flags that pointed toward the lawsuit being a money grab.
First, Kevin Hicks, about a year before the lawsuit was filed, contacted a writer at the Seattle Pi. He offered her the scoop on wine arsenic levels being high in mass-produced California reds and said she could pay him via PayPal or check and then he'd pass it along.
Second, Kevin Hicks is a plaintiff on the class action suit. He is also the founder of BeverageGrades. BeverageGrades is named in the suit as having been the lab that tested the wines.
Third, the BeverageGrades website has very little information about the actual science they use (more on this below). They list low arsenic wines, mostly from boutique vineyards, but never say how they test, the metrics, what is normal, or anything about the methodolgy of the testing except that they compared safe levels of arsenic in drinking water to that in wine. A comparison that doesn't make sense.
Fourth, the BeverageGrades website has a small FAQ which includes a question about whether or not they are a party to the lawsuit and they answer with just "No." Sure, that's the truth, but it's strange that they wouldn't mention that their founder is one of the people filing suit.
Winedom's article provides a detailed analysis that helps show that this lawsuit was likely more about getting money. After all, anyone can sue. And a suit like this is one a large company will want to go away since it could have serious effects not only on the companies sued but the industry overall. It's a great case to settle and put in the past.
Wine Folly Attacks The Pseudo-Science in the Lawsuit
As we mentioned above, the Winedom article mentions the comparison of arsenic in drinking water to that in wine. We all ingest arsenic daily in different ways. But the key here is how you compare these.
Water safety levels are never set right at the line of safety due to differences in weight, biology, and other factors. In fact, they are set far lower than where ingestion would become risky. This means that even though wine arsenic levels are higher in wine than water it is still not dangerous. Additionally, we drink far more water than we do wine, even in daily drinkers. Water consumption is recommended at a rate of .5-1 ounce per pound body weight. Wine is capped at 5-10 ounces per day.
You can read more about the pseudo-science Wine Folly attacks here.
At the End of the Day
Are wine arsenic levels something to be worried about? No. At this time there is nothing to prove that wine arsenic levels are anything other than completely normal and safe. Of course, it is good to have watchdogs and people who question the safety of our food and water. Luckily we also have people watching the watchers to make sure we don't do things like stop drinking one of our favorite beverages.
Now that you're feeling better, come on down to Jersey Wine & Spirits and we'll help you pick out a nice, safe bottle of California red or any other wine you're interested in.