Vol. 1 No. 8 ….there’s arsenic in the wine! Say it isn’t so, TB…

TB had intended to write more on his trip and has almost completed on segment but this story is too important and also highlights his theme: there are many good wines produced now around the world that are forcing out the bad. Areas that used to just produce a high volume of wine are now making less and at higher quality…a good thing!

It isn’t so! Okay, there is, but an ambulance-chasing law firm in L.A. with the unwitting (?) help of a Denver-based chemical analysis firm (neither shall be mentioned by name so as not to further publicize their heinous actions by creating a scare that is much more insidious than any trace arsenic in wine. Put a stop to it.  Of course they were able to get two couples to file, thus getting class-action status – the Holy Grail of product liability lawyers – but just how have they been harmed? Did anyone suffer injury or die? Wouldn’t it more likely that someone had dies of arsenic poisoning leading regulators to look at wine? Unless the wine industry comes on very strong and proves the suit is without merit, it will probably be settled on the courthouse steps with only the law firm benefiting, and of course, secondarily the chemical analysis firm. I believe there are just four names in the class action. If you have been, or had the opportunity to be, a party to a class-action (most likely through some securities you own(ed), you are well aware of how this works: settled out of court, lawyers and expert witnesses are paid, and in a case against say Ford, for fires in pick-up trucks, the plaintiffs get a $200 coupon to be used on a new…FORD PICK-UP! Why in God’s name would you buy anything from the company knowing that they produced a vehicle that could catch fire (even though the problem was fixed long ago)? In this case, how about if they gave you a coupon for a free case of ‘Two-Buck Chuck’? That’s the ticket.

Enough of the levity, now to the serious side of the issue. The U.S. Food and Drug Agency has decreed that drinking water should not contain more than 10 parts per million of arsenic (this due to a 2013 decree caused by it being in orange juice) that we consume much more water than arsenic…er, wine…a couple of glasses most likely a day, versus a couple of quarts (or liters) of drinking water. The rub is that arsenic stays in your body and eventually builds up (that is the theory of how Napoleon was poisoned, slowly, and without knowing it). How valid is the 10ppm level?

The French drink on average 16.4 gallons of wine per person each year (that’s less than 6 ounces per day or about 9% of their daily intake of water. If the standard there was the 50ppm and assuming their water was right at 50ppm, that would mean the standard for wine could be 500ppm  or higher, with no ill effects. In fact, the results of the lab study here didn’t even exceed the 50ppm level which the lawsuit has labeled.

Yet without saying how many different labels they tasted, they came up with 28 producers and 73 labels, most notably Charles Shaw (Two-Buck Chuck), and some of the others named being sold through Trader Joe’s (talk about defamation!), and other outlets. No one asked them to do this (or so they say), and the wine industry has its own chemical analysis companies that strongly dispute the findings. In their scare campaign they said some of these wines more than 500% of the limit (see they could have said five times which is just 50ppm – hardly worthy of sounding alarms). Even the FDA and EPA said the limit was established for ‘public water systems’ and is not relevant for wine  – how about that?

Back to the 10ppm limit. Canada, conservative Canada (who has to absorb the health costs of their citizens), has a limit of 100ppm. Europe is 200ppm…they too have to pay health costs!

If you aren’t disgusted by our legal system by now, you should be if this case isn’t thrown out of court and the law firm sued for their overblown claims like ‘dangerously high levels’ that are damaging an entire industry.

How did the arsenic get in the wine? It is in all wine and virtually all things including the soil. Diatomacious earth is commonly used to filter wine, with presumably the best filtration methods being used on middle and high-end wines. Sorry, no smoking gun here.

You decide the facts and hopefully this case won’t even come to trial and be dismissed for lack of merit. But is there an upside to this? There just might be. Perhaps consumers will see that for a little more (Two-Buck Chuck now costs $3.50), and Trader Joe’s and other vendors may be able to get people to pay more…there are many steals at all wine shops for under $10, some for as little as $5 (once TB saw a clerk moving a case of TBC and warned him not to drop even one bottle or the profit would be lost). Did you ever stop to think how much just the bottle, label, cork or screw-cap, cost…let alone the cost of growing and processing the grapes? It is hard for TB to contemplate what the wine sells for that allows it to be profitable at less than $10 (we haven’t even considered the cost of production, except by tremendous volume. Try paying a little more and experiment with several wines not just settling for one because it’s cheap.

Happy tasting!


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