Thursday, March 26, 2015

Arsenic in Wine - Is It Worth the Worry?

A guy who owns a testing laboratory is filing a lawsuit against wine makers, claiming that the wine has too much arsenic.  He tested over 1300 bottles of wine and found that 80ish had levels up to 50 ppb (parts per billion).

Should one worry?  Of course the mass media would have you worry (CBS News Report). 

EPA has set a level of 10ppb in drinking water.  And that level is based on drinking 2 L of water per day.  Certainly if you are drinking 2 L of wine per day everyday, your liver has bigger issues from the alcohol.

FDA has proposed a limit of 10 ppb for fruit juice, and although that is low, it was done considering that children are the top juice drinkers.  But I don't see a lot of children drinking wine.

The EU has a limit of 200 ppb of arsenic, and the Canadians have a limit of 100ppb.  So all of these wines would be safe for sale in Europe and Canada.

Arsenic is naturally found in nature, and can be found in many foods in low levels.

On topics such as this, we like to say that if you are still concerned from the risk, don't drink wine....the more for the rest of us (of course, always consumed in a responsible way). 

NPR - The Salt
Arsenic In California Wines: Should Drinkers Be Concerned?
MARCH 25, 2015 4:12 PM ET


There's been a lot of buzz around the story that some inexpensive California wines, including a Charles Shaw (aka two-buck Chuck) white Zinfandel sold at Trader Joe's, have been found to contain traces of arsenic.

The wines were tested by a commercial laboratory called BeverageGrades. And alawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court against a group of wine producers claims two other labs confirmed tests that found arsenic levels in some wines exceeded what is allowed in drinking water.

With headlines like "Very High Levels of Arsenic" In Top-Selling Wines (from CBS's website), it's not a surprise that some wine drinkers are mystified. Since more than a few burning questions crossed our minds here at The Salt, we went looking for answers.

How does arsenic end up in food and wine?

Lots of foods and drinks contain trace levels of arsenic. As chemists explain it, arsenic is a natural element which is abundant in the Earth's crust, so it ends up in our soil and water.

And, as plants — including grapes — grow in the soil, they can take up, or absorb, the arsenic there. So, it's no surprise to chemists, or the wine industry, that there are trace levels detectable in wines.

Wines from throughout the world contain trace amounts of arsenic as do juices, vegetables, grains and other alcohol beverages," according to a statementfrom the Wine Institute. And research, such as thisanalysis from the European Food Safety Authority, confirms this is true.

Were there dangerous levels of arsenic in some of the California wines tested by BeverageGrades?

The U.S. government does not set an allowable limit for arsenic in wine. But Canada's government does.

The upper threshold, set by Health Canada, is 100 parts per billion, or ppb. And the limit set by OIV, a European intergovernmental wine organization, is even higher at 200 ppb.

None of the California wines that were tested by BeverageGrades tested higher than 50 ppb, according to news reports. (Neither the company nor the lawyers have released the lab results.)

And three-quarters of the bottles of the roughly 1,300 bottles of wine reportedly tested below 10 ppb, which is the EPA's allowable limit for arsenic in drinking water.

In Rice, How Much Arsenic Is Too Much?

So, by Canadian standards, the levels of arsenic in the California wines that were tested are acceptable.

In addition, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, a government enterprise in Canada, has performed its own testing on arsenic in wines. The LCBO's spokesperson tells The Salt by email that last year, its laboratory tested 2,247 wines from California.

All of them tested below the maximum allowable limit for arsenic. In fact, 90 percent of the California wines tested below 10 parts per billion, and 99 percent had levels of 25 ppb or lower.

There are experts who've raised a red flag about the concentrations of arsenic detected in some California wines. "Arsenic is highly toxic," Allan Smith, director of the Arsenic Health Effects research program at the University of California, Berkeley, told CBS News. And, over time, that can be be deadly.

But, as many scientists point out, it's the overall exposure that determines the potential health effects.

"Whenever you're talking about toxicity, it's the dose that makes the poison," Susan Ebeler, a professor and chemist in the Foods For Health Institute at the University of California, Davis, says.

As Health Canada notes, "Studies of populations in Asia have associated the development of skin lesions, various cancers and neurotoxicity ... with chronic ingestion of drinking water containing elevated concentrations of arsenic ranging from 10 to 100 times greater than the current Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guideline for arsenic," or 10 ppb.

These exposures are also typically much higher than what Americans are exposed to through water, food or wine.

And, some experts say a drinking water standard shouldn't be used to determine how much trace arsenic should be tolerable in wine in part because people drink much less wine than water.

Also, the safety thresholds in drinking water must take into consideration the toxicity to young children, who are more vulnerable.

What about adults who drink wine or consume foods with trace levels of arsenic in the U.S.?

"There's no reason to believe that dietary exposure to arsenic in food and wine is above levels that are considered to be safe," Ebeler says.

But there are differences of opinion. The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleges that some California wineries produce and market wines that have "dangerously high levels" of arsenic.

Is there anything wine makers or food producers can do to lower the amount of arsenic in their products?

One strategy is to be aware of the geographic hot spots where concentrations of arsenic in surface soil are highest.

This map by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that some areas of the country have much higher levels — states like Nevada, Montana and Pennsylvania, among others.

The higher concentrations of arsenic can be explained by a number of factors. For instance, bedrock or glacial deposits that contain high levels of arsenic can influence the ground soil above them. In addition, mining and coal-burning activities release arsenic.

In other cases, there are residues from arsenic-based pesticides used decades ago togrow apples, rice and other crops.

And another possibility: As we've reported, traces of arsenic in some alcoholic beverages may come from a filtering process.

Some brewers or wine makers use natural materials such as diatomaceous earth or, in the case of wine, bentonite clay to filter out small bits of plant matter or anything that might make the liquid cloudy. So it's possible that the arsenic in these natural materials can leach into the beverage.

The lead attorney in the lawsuit against the winemakers told the AP that arsenic in wines might have been introduced in the wine-making process.

Ebeler has published a study that assesses how soils and processing and storage techniques can influence trace metal concentrations in wines.

But it's not clear whether a filtering process — or another processing or storage technique — influenced the levels of trace arsenic found in the California wines that were tested by BeverageGrades.

The Wine Institute
Wine Institute Statement on Possible Arsenic Litigation

Mar 19, 2015

As the association of 1,000 California wineries, Wine Institute is very concerned with the health and safety of consumers who enjoy wine.

We have learned of possible litigation alleging that certain wines pose a risk to consumers because they contain trace amounts of arsenic. Although we are not privy to the contents of the litigation, we believe this allegation is false and misleading and that all wines being sold in the U.S marketplace are safe.

Arsenic is prevalent in the natural environment in air, soil and water, and in food. As an agricultural product, wines from throughout the world contain trace amounts of arsenic as do juices, vegetables, grains and other alcohol beverages. There is no research that shows that the amounts found in wine pose a health risk to consumers.

The U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the agency that regulates wine, beer and spirits, monitors wines for compounds, including arsenic, as part of its testing program as does FDA as part of its Total Diet Study. While there are no established limits in the U.S., several countries, including the European Union, have established limits of 100 parts per billion or higher for wine. California wine exports are tested by these governments and are below the established limits.

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.

Assessing and Understanding Arsenic Exposure
Carl K. Winter, Elizabeth A. Jara, and James R. Coughlin | January 2015, Volume 69, No.1

Inorganic arsenic is carcinogenic and found in a variety of food and beverage products, but not at levels that are considered dangerous, analyses suggest.

The topic of arsenic in food has received considerable attention in the popular press, from U.S. and international regulatory authorities, and in the scientific community in the past few years. It is clearly a controversial topic subject to scientific and regulatory deliberations that could significantly impact the food industry.

While it has been known for decades that the public may be exposed to arsenic by consuming many different food and beverage items, consumer awareness of dietary arsenic exposure was raised following publication in Consumer Reports magazine of monitoring results analyzing commercially available fruit juices (January, 2012) and rice-based products (November, 2012) for arsenic (Consumers Union, 2012a, b). The articles concluded that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should set federal health standards for arsenic in fruit juices and in rice-based products. In July 2013, the FDA proposed an action level of 10 parts per billion (ppb), which is similar to the U.S. Environmental Protection agency (EPA) drinking water standard, for inorganic arsenic in apple juice; FDA concluded that this level was achievable under Good Manufacturing Practices and was protective of public health. While the FDA has not yet set an arsenic standard for rice-based products, the Joint FAO-WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission in July 2014 established a maximum level of 200 ppb for inorganic arsenic in polished rice.

Sources of Arsenic in Food
Arsenic is an element that is found in the environment from both natural and human sources. According to the FDA, arsenic occurs in the environment from erosion of arsenic-containing rocks, volcanic eruptions, contamination from mining and smelting ores, and previous or current use of arsenic-containing pesticides (FDA, 2014). It has also been alleged that arsenic additives used in chicken feed may enter the environment from runoff on adjacent chicken farms. Once introduced into the environment, arsenic makes its way into food products following absorption through soil and water. Foods that are produced following prolonged contact with water, such as seafood and rice, are often associated with higher levels of arsenic contamination.

It is critical to differentiate the specific forms of arsenic that contaminate foods. Arsenic exists in both organic and inorganic forms. Common organic forms of arsenic include monomethylarsonic acid, dimethylarsinic acid, and arsenobetaine, while common forms of inorganic arsenic include trivalent (As3+) and pentavalent (As5+) arsenate. From a toxicological perspective, arsenic health concerns are derived primarily from the inorganic arsenic forms. Unfortunately, the most common analytical procedures look at total arsenic and do not speciate among its organic and inorganic forms. As a result, dietary arsenic exposure assessments using total arsenic findings may overestimate exposure to inorganic arsenic unless efforts are made to estimate the fraction of total arsenic existing as inorganic arsenic.

Arsenic Health Effects
Inorganic arsenic is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a human carcinogen (IARC, 2012). This designation is primarily attributed to studies in Taiwan and Chile that linked consumption of groundwater containing very high levels of arsenic (in the hundreds of ppb) with cancers of the skin, lung, and bladder. While it is clear that such high levels of exposure were responsible for the cancers in Taiwan and Chile, it is very difficult to determine what risks, if any, are posed by the much lower levels of inorganic arsenic exposure in the diet that consumers face today.

Traditional cancer risk assessment methods assume that threshold doses for carcinogens do not exist, meaning that exposure to any finite amount of a carcinogen could potentially result in the development of cancer, although the cancer risk is still related to the exposure (Winter and Francis, 1997). Linear methods extrapolate the estresults from high-dose studies to predict potential risks at low doses; using such an approach, the National Research Council estimated that consumer exposure to drinking water at the EPA’s 10 ppb inorganic arsenic standard could result in approximately 1 additional cancer for 300 individuals exposed (NRC, 2001). Recent biomonitoring studies have also indicated the potential for moderate and/or low-dose impacts from dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic (Moon et al., 2013; Garcia-Esquinas et al., 2013).

A recent publication from Cohen et al. (2013) disputes the assumed lack of a cancer threshold and argues that the mode of carcinogenic action for inorganic arsenic involves formation of reactive trivalent arsenate metabolites that react in the body with cellular sulfhydryl groups to cause cytotoxicity and regenerative cell proliferation at high doses. 

No comments:

Post a Comment