Arsenic Lawsuits Against Wine Manufacturers Seek Certification

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A lawyer who filed lawsuits against a series of wine manufacturers for containing high levels of arsenic is seeking for the cases to be transferred into multidistrict litigation in Louisiana.

Friday, April 3, 2015 - Lawsuits against dozens of low-quality wine manufacturers for the presence of arsenic in their beverages have come before a federal panel that will determine whether they deserve to be transferred into multidistrict litigation. The manufacturers, which include Trader Joe‘s and Franzia, allegedly produce wines with dangerous amounts of the arsenic in their products.

The plaintiff‘s lawyer in the case, Daniel Becnel, filed a motion before the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in hopes of having the arsenic wine lawsuits transferred into an MDL in the Middle District of Louisiana. He claims that the lack of a proper filtration system not only allows for high levels of arsenic to be transferred to the wines, but also cuts costs for the wine manufacturers and allow for them to price their products lower at the expense of the consumer‘s health.

The existence of arsenic in the wines isn‘t necessarily troubling as many plants, such as grapes used to make wine, are natural carriers of the element. The grievance the plaintiffs have against the winemakers concerns the allegedly high amount of arsenic that is present in the defendant‘s beverages.

The process of determining whether the amount of arsenic is too high is difficult as the U.S. does not have restrictions in place to regulate the ratio for wine. Comparisons can be made to other areas in the world where those restrictions do exist. In Canada, the ceiling for arsenic in wine stands at 100 parts per billion. In Europe, the amount is double that figure and stands at 200 parts per billion. To date, none of the wines tested in relation to the lawsuit have exceeded 50 parts per billion. The wines were tested by BeverageGrades, a commercial liquids laboratory. Two other labs later confirmed the findings made by BeverageGrades.

However, the plaintiffs are arguing that this level is unsafe because the Environmental Protection Agency only allows for 10 parts per billion for drinking water. Though 75 percent of the wines tested failed to even reach this plateau, the remaining 25 percent are at the heart of the plaintiff‘s case against the wine manufacturers.

There are experts however that claim employing drinking water as a comparison for toxicity isn‘t advisable, as these regulations take into account how much drinking water a person is likely to consume. This figure is far greater than the average amount of wine that would be consumed, and thus would raise the acceptable level of arsenic.

The Wine Institute, a trade organization that deals with California wine production, claims that roughly 14 glasses of wine per day would have to be consumed for real health concerns to be discussed. That is the same amount used by the EPA to determine acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water.

With these facts in hand, Becnel argues that wine manufacturers put heavy wine drinkers in harm‘s way given the levels of arsenic in their beverages. He also argued that moderate drinkers were also possibly taking on health risks by consuming the defendants‘ products. Becnel is hoping for consolidation so any person nationwide who may have been affected by the high arsenic levels can come forward with a claim, and he plans on filing similar lawsuits around the country in the coming weeks.