31 May 2017

Beverage Grades, Wine and Arsenic.

Denver-based Beverage Grades is not new to the game, but it appears that they keep reinventing the focus of the company. In a story by  Ben Bouckley in on beveragedaily.com on 09-Jul-2014:

‘Disruptive technology should encourage some US wineries to up their game’

The idea of the app, plug in an expensive bottle of wine and find the best cheap alternative.  In a demonstration, they plugged in Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay (2011) which averages $1/bottle and found a 96.8% taste match with Camelot Chardonnay (2009) at only $5.81/ bottle. The hope was to offer the app free and then monetize the data by licensing it to distributors and liqueur stores. The big problem with the app, it found a chemical match, which does not equal a taste match.

In September of 2014, the Denver Business Journal reported that Denver-based BeverageGrade would leverage their app by providing caloric content of alcoholic beverages. The apps would remain free, but they hoped to eventually collect enough date to sell to restaurants and bars. In prepping for phase two of their app, company planned to purchase:
seven high-dollar instruments that can analyze everything from the caloric content to the amounts of any pesticides and heavy metals in a beverage to their flavor profiles. In addition to the nutritional calculations, another feature of the Beverage Grades app is that it compares beers and wines based on about 100 flavor profiles detected by the equipment and offers suggestions for similar-tasting alternatives.
Now we are at phase three and the company has used the new machines and claimed they approached the companies with high levels of arsenic and other heavy metals with their test results, but the companies failed to respond, so the only way to get this formation out was to initiate a Class Action lawsuit. The class would consist of consumers who have to purchase the listed wines over the past 4 years. 

Also, in the March 19, 2015 CBS story,
The CBS article summarized Hicks' claims, noting an inverse relationship between the cost of wines and the levels of arsenic they contained and the lack of an explanation to account for that phenomenon:

However, his own research contradicts this claim. For example, in the category of flavored wines, Boons Farm took the top three spots as safest wines, with a very low level of heavy metals.Moreover, he claims on his website that the tainted wins contain as much as 500% more arsenic that the legal limit for water. What he fails to show is a comparison between the listed wines and FDA limits for guidelines for various consumables and the legal requirement by jurisdictions for wines. 

I think the biggest issue when viewing the information on beveragegrade.com, is the lack of data. Although the company has been in business since 2012, with an app that offers taste comparison and caloric content, none of this data is available on the new site. In fact, the entire site was relaunched on March 16th, 2015, and the registration extended to  2025. I guess they think this will finally be the real money maker for the company. 

Looking further, the company also failed to offer any source information for comparison. Not one link to an outside source of information. Nothing to Consumer Reports, state or federal  Department of Agriculture, the USGA or the FDA. Nothing to wine or beverage organization, consumer or environmental groups, nothing. It is not like the information is not available. In a quick search online I found the following from the FDA:

Per the FDA:
Arsenic is present in the environment as a naturally occurring substance or as a result of contamination from human activity. It is found in water, air, food, and soil in organic and inorganic forms.
The FDA has been measuring total arsenic concentrations in foods, including rice and juices, through its Total Diet Study program since 1991. The agency also monitors toxic elements, including arsenic, in a variety of domestic and imported foods under the Toxic Elements Program, with emphasis is placed on foods that children are likely to eat or drink, such as juices.
Because arsenic is a naturally occurring element, it is absorbed by plants regardless of whether they are grown under conventional or organic farming practices
If Beverage Grades wanted to offer consumers information about the dangers of arsenic in food, it would have been a good idea to consult the FDA, or at least take a look at the website. Remember, Beverage Grades says that the that the worse offender has  500% more arsenic in its wine than the amount allowed in drinking water. Drinking water can have up to 10 ppb, the worse offender has 60 ppb. One of the things I found on the FDA site is that rice acts as a sponge for the absorption of minerals, and heavy metals. Keep the 60 ppb amount in mind when looking at the following common rice products:

FDA Full Analytical Results - Rice Products
Infant rice cereal: 120
Rice cakes: 145
Marshmallow Rice Treats:  114
Basmati rice: 80
Brown rice: 160
Instant rice: 59
While long grain: 103
White, short grain: 79

So, what is this really about? It is not about wine, food safety or the general public. This is an attempt by a company to cash in, by forcing these companies to carry the BG wine glass on their label as proof the wine has been independently tested. Also for bars and restaurants to display this label on their doors or menus after paying a membership fee. Like everything else, we can look at, in the end, follow the money. But if you have a few gullible friends who are now swearing off $2BC, just remind them of the following:

  • The U.S. government has not published a limit for arsenic in wine but several countries do:
    • Canada 100 ppb
    • EU and Japan have set limits ranging from 100ppb up to 1000ppb – 10 to 100 times the level the EPA determined to be safe for drinking water. But much higher than the 60 ppb of the worse wine listed during testing
  • The lawsuit claims that certain wines contain unsafe levels of arsenic based on the limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for drinking water – 10 parts per billion (ppb). 
    • However: the real source of this idea is the apple juice scare of 2011/12. When people were advocating limits of 3 ppb when drinking water has 10ppb.
  • When the U.S. government considers limits for arsenic in food and beverages, they take into account how much of that food or beverage an average person may consume in a day and the age of people who likely consume that food/beverage. Daily intake levels for water are significantly higher than for wine.
  • The risks from potential exposure to arsenic in wine are lower than the risks the EPA considers safe for drinking water. 
    • FDA Recommendation is eight 8 oz glasses of water a day, while  U.S. Dietary Guidelines set 1-2 5 oz. glasses of wine.
  • Arsenic is prevalent in the natural environment in air, soil and water and food. As an agricultural product, a wine will contain trace amounts of arsenic as do all other foods, both organic and inorganic.
  • The U.S. government, both TTB and FDA as part of its Total Diet Study, regularly tests wines for harmful compounds including arsenic as does Canada and the European Union to ensure that wine is safe to consume.
    • If this was an issue, it would have been resolved with years ago. 

"Whois Lookup." Beveragegrades.com Whois Lookup - Who.is - Who.is. Whois, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.
Ed Sealover, Ed. "Denver Company Mixes up Way to Measure Calories in Beer, Wine - Denver Business Journal." Widgets RSS. Denver Business Journal, 12 Sept. 2014. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.

"USGS- Arsenic in Ground Water of the United States: Occurrence and Geochemistry." USGS- Arsenic in Ground Water of the United States: Occurrence and Geochemistry. By Alan H. Welch, D.B. Westjohn, Dennis R. Helsel and Richard B. Wanty, 4 Mar. 2014. Web. 06 Apr. 2015. 


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