A lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court claims that some California wines tested for inorganic arsenic contain higher-than-allowable levels. The complaint lists four individual plaintiffs and names as defendants Trader Joe’s, which sells some of the wines that were tested, and about two dozen California wineries, including some well-known names such as Beringer, Fetzer, and Sutter Home. http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-wine-bottles-row-isolated-white-background-image30229190The 53-page complaint, Charles vs. The Wine Group Inc., et al, alleges six specific legal violations on the part of the defendants and asks for a jury trial. Plaintiffs state in the complaint that “responsible” CA wineries “limit the amount of inorganic arsenic present in their wines to ‘trace’ levels considered acceptable (if not completely safe) for human consumption.” They further allege that “three separate testing laboratories skilled in arsenic testing have now independently confirmed that several California wineries (including those named as Defendants in this action) instead 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 intake limit.” According to the complaint, this means that “… Defendants have knowingly and recklessly engaged in a consistent pattern and practice of selling arsenic-contaminated wine to California consumers, without disclosing either the existence of the toxin in their product, or the health risks it posed, thereby secretly poisoning wine consumers in direct violation of California law.” While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets limits on how much arsenic (a known carcinogen) is legally allowed in drinking water, there is no federally set limit on the amount of arsenic allowable in wine. “There are no [EPA] limits for other foods and beverages — including wine — because they’re not consumed at the same level as water and not deemed to be a risk. There is no research that shows that the amount of arsenic in wine poses any health risks to consumers,” Nancy Light, vice president of the San Francisco-based Wine Institute, told Wine Spectator magazine. The California wine industry group issued a statement Thursday noting that arsenic is “prevalent in the natural environment in air, soil and water, and in food.” The institute’s statement added that the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau, which regulates wine and other alcohol, monitors for arsenic as part of its testing program, and that California wine exports tested by the European Union and other countries have found levels of arsenic below their established limits of 100 parts per billion (ppb) or higher for wine. The U.S. EPA standard for arsenic in drinking water is 10 ppb. “We are concerned that the irresponsible publicity campaign by the litigating party could scare the public into thinking that wine is not safe to consume which is patently untrue. We will continue to keep consumers, the media and industry informed,” the statement concluded. BeverageGrades, a private laboratory in Denver which tested the wine, stated that it found arsenic levels well above federal limits in some low-cost California bottles. These included Franzia White Grenache, Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck White Zinfandel, and Menage a Trois Moscato, among others. Representatives of some California wineries named in the complaint told Wine Spectator that Kevin Hicks, who started BeverageGrades, had not contacted them before the complaint was filed, although they said that his company sent out a press release the day of the filing to some wine vendors offering them testing services. According to a Thursday CBS News report, Hicks tested more than 1,300 bottles of wine and found inorganic arsenic in 83 brands of various types and vintages, including Franzia, Sutter Home, Concannon, Wine Cube, Beringer, Flipflop, Fetzer, Korbel, Almaden, Trapiche, Cupcake, Smoking Loon and Charles Shaw. CBS reported that it had those results checked by a University of California-Berkeley epidemiologist, Allan Smith, who confirmed some of the levels Hicks found. Smith said that 50 ppb of arsenic, the highest level found in one of the bottles Hicks tested, can be deadly over time. “Arsenic is highly toxic; it’s astonishing,” he said. “It has as many effects inside the body as cigarette smoking does.” The bottles of wine Hicks tested were almost all priced at $10 or less each, and most were less than $5 each, said Brian Kabateck, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. He spoke at a press conference Thursday in Los Angeles after the lawsuit was filed. “The consumer may be spending less than $5 for a bottle of wine, but they may be paying with their health in the long run,” Kabateck said. “These are very serious allegations that we’re raising against the wine industry.” He added that the goal of the complaint was to get wineries to recall these wines and refund money to those who paid for them, and to “clean up the wine industry in California.” In addition to his firm, Kabateck Brown Kellner, LLP of Los Angeles, the plaintiffs are represented by Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, P.C., of Englewood, CO, and Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Rafferty & Proctor, P.A., of Pensacola, FL.