Just over a year ago, a class action was filed in California against a group of six winery defendants, producing 83 named wine brands, alleging that the wines contained unsafe levels of arsenic (Charles et al. vs. The Wine Group, Inc., et al, No. BC576061). The case triggered numerous articles about wine potentially being unsafe for consumption. On March 23, 2016, the Los Angeles Superior Court sustained a demurrer by the wineries defending the claim, and dismissed the action. The plaintiffs did not allege actual harm from exposure to arsenic; rather, they asserted that the non-disclosure of trace arsenic constituted a breach of California’s “Prop 65” labeling and consumer notification requirements. The court disagreed. All claims against the wineries were dismissed.
Due to its presence in soil and ground water, virtually all food and beverages contain trace elements of arsenic. There is no US regulation setting a maximum quantity of arsenic that may be present in either food or wine, although the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does have a limit for inorganic arsenic in drinking water, at 0.01mg per liter. Other countries regulate arsenic levels in wine. For example, the European Union adopted a maximum of 0.2mg per liter, a standard set by the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV). In Canada, there is a maximum limit of 0.1mg/liter of wine. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), one of the world’s largest wine purchasers, conducts regular testing of wines from all over the world, including some of the wines identified in the lawsuit, and all were below the regulatory limit for arsenic.
Shortly after the original claim was filed in this matter, UC Davis published a very helpful factsheet about arsenic contamination, which can be found HERE for more information.
Around the time of the original California state case, nearly identical arsenic lawsuits were also filed in federal courts in Louisiana, Florida, and Puerto Rico, with a long list of additional defendants. Those lawsuits were each dismissed without prejudice, and are not affected by the decision in California. The California plaintiffs have said they plan to continue to pursue their case, indicating that an appeal may be forthcoming.
For more information about the case, or about California wine labeling generally, contact an attorney at Strike & Techel.
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