A class action lawsuit was filed in California claiming that some top-selling wines contain up to four and five times the maximum amount of arsenic that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows for drinking water.
One of the brands named in the lawsuit was Trader Joe’s popular Charles Shaw wine — commonly known as “Two-Buck Chuck.” Other names include Franzia, Menage a Trois, Sutter Home, Wine Cube, Charles Shaw, Glen Ellen, Cupcake, Beringer and Vendage. This does not mean that all of the vintages from these wineries contained arsenic; it was primarily found in inexpensive white or blush varietals including Moscato, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. According to CBS, the Charles Shaw White Zinfandel came in at three times the limit, a bottle of Ménage à Trois Moscato was four times the limit, and a Franzia White Grenache had five times the EPA limit for drinking water.
In all, the suit accuses more than 24 California winemakers and sellers of misrepresenting their wine as safe.
Arsenic is a highly-toxic poison known to cause illness and death when ingested. It typically has no odor, color or flavor, so it’s difficult to detect with your normal senses. Some of the long-term health effects of arsenic exposure include various types of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Kevin Hicks at BeverageGrades made the discovery. He tested more than 1,300 bottles of wine, and almost a quarter of them had levels higher than the EPA’s maximum allowable amount of arsenic in drinking water: 10 parts per billion. It’s not known why these specific varietals contained more arsenic than others, but Hicks did notice a pattern.
“The lower the price of wine on a per-liter basis, the higher the amount of arsenic,” he said.
Some in the industry are arguing that comparing arsenic in wine with acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water isn’t fair. As a spokesperson for The Wine Group, one of the companies named in the lawsuit, told CBS News, “It would not be accurate or responsible to use the water standard as the baseline” because people generally drink more water than wine. He also pointed out that the highest level of arsenic cited in the lawsuit is “only half of Canada’s standard for wine, of 100 parts per billion.”
Treasury Wine estates told CBS its “brands are fully compliant with all relevant federal and state guidelines,” and Trader Joe’s said “the concerns raised in your inquiry are serious and are being treated as such. We are investigating the matter with several of our wine producing suppliers.”
Food website Eater.com noted that this could potentially have a negative impact on America’s burgeoning wine industry.
Last year, America officially dethroned France as the “number-one largest market for wine in the world.” The news affects wine drinkers in other countries too. A report released in February shows that the U.S. is one of the largest exporters of wine in the world: In 2015, America exported just under $1.5 billion worth of wine.