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Judge tosses suit against California wineries for high levels of arsenic in wine

A state judge has dismissed a lawsuit alleging budget wines produced by more than two dozen California wineries contained illegal and toxic levels of arsenic.

Judge John Shepard Wiley Jr. of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County ruled Wednesday that the plaintiffs in the class-action suit could not go forward because at least one of the wineries was covered under legal safeguards from state Proposition 65.

Proposition 65 requires businesses to put a “clear and reasonable” warning on their products if they contain certain chemicals that have been found to cause cancer or birth defects.

The ruling is a relief for the state’s wine industry, which mounted an aggressive legal and public relations attack against the plaintiffs who last year sued 28 wineries, including local wine producers such as Fetzer, Korbel and Don Sebastiani & Sons.

The consumers alleged the wineries violated state law by knowingly producing, marketing and selling wine with elevated levels of arsenic, a naturally occurring chemical element that can be poisonous in high concentrations. Their lawyers conducted tests on the wine which, according to the suit, found “in some cases up to 500 percent or more than what is considered the maximum acceptable safe daily intake limit.”

The industry countered the allegations were false, noting that trace amounts of arsenic are contained in all sorts of food products, and that the amounts found in wine pose no health risk to consumers.

“The FDA has been monitoring the arsenic content in food and beverages for more than 20 years,” said the Wine Institute, a trade group for California vintners, in a statement. “Arsenic is naturally occurring in the environment in air, soil and water and is present in virtually all foods and beverages.”

Brian Kabateck, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he would appeal the ruling. He argued the case should have proceeded regardless of the Proposition 65 defense because of what he alleged were such high levels of arsenic in 83 wines out of 1,306 that were tested.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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