Lawsuits Over California Wine Arsenic Levels Filed Against Several Wineries

A number of California wineries are accused of knowingly selling wine with illegally, and potentially dangerously, high levels of arsenic. 

At least two class action lawsuits over California wine arsenic levels have been filed against the makers of 31 different brands bottled in the state, including companies like Arrow Creek, Beringer, Charles Shaw, Franzia, and Sutter Home.

One of the complaints was filed by two different couples in Los Angeles County Superior Court on March 19, and another was filed in federal court in Louisiana by Laura Marvin.

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According to the lawsuits, the companies have sold bottles of wine with levels of arsenic that exceed California limits by as much as 500%. The wines were tested by an independent beer and spirits third-party testing company called Beverage Grades.

Arsenic is a known carcinogen that has been associated with multiple harmful side effects such as skin lesions, developmental effects, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. The levels of arsenic in food has become an increasing concern, because it is a naturally occuring mineral from use of pesticides.

MDL Request for California Wine Lawsuits

On March 27, a petition (PDF) was filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, seeking to centralize and consolidate all of the California wine lawsuits pending throughout the federal court system before one judge to reduce duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting rulings and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

“Three separate testing laboratories skilled in arsenic testing have now independently confirmed that several California wineries produce and market wines that contain dangerously high levels of inorganic arsenic, in some cases up to 500% or more than what is considered the maximum acceptable safe daily limit,” the multidistrict litigation (MDL) request states. “Put differently, just a glass or two of these arsenic-contaminated wines a day over time could result in dangerous arsenic toxicity to the consumer.”

The petition notes that in 2013, the Wine Institute estimated that 215 million cases of California wine were shipped within the United States alone, representing more than 2.5 billion bottles with an estimated retail value of $23.1 billion.

The complaint filed by the California couples; Doris Charles, Alvin Jones, and Jason and Jennifer Peltier, allege that the wine makers are selling contaminated wine for the sake of profits and putting consumers at risk and disadvantages wineries playing by the rules.

“Responsible California wineries who do have proper methods and processes in place to reduce inorganic arsenic to acceptable levels are unable to compete at the same price point in the wine market with those wineries who choose instead not to implement the proper methods and processes (and incur the costs thereof) to ensure their wine customers are not exposed to dangerous levels of inorganic arsenic from their contaminated wines,” the lawsuit states.

The claims have raised concerns about the safety of California wine, particularly the discount brands, with the list of accused wine makers being traded by wine tasters on the internet worldwide. However, wine industry insiders claim the fears are overblown, noting that the FDA allows some fruit juices to contain two to three times as much arsenic as is allowed in drinking water.

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