Stick to the science – Letter to Decanter, July 2013

It’s not often that I’m moved to write a letter to the editor of a magazine, but a news item in the April Decanter annoyed me. My letter was published in the July issue.

The original story is here.

Here’s my response:

As a wine lover and someone with a science background, including experience in food safety, the news story about pesticide residues in wine does a disservice to science and to wine lovers. While it did mention that all the traces found were below legal levels, it failed to provide both context and expert comment.

Modern analytical techniques can reliably detect molecules down to parts per billion or even trillion, the proverbial drop in a swimming pool. At this level of detection it is possible to find almost any molecule anywhere. Detection itself is meaningless. What matters is the amount of a chemical. As Paracelsus said hundreds of years ago, ‘the dose makes the poison’. Since all levels found were below legal levels, there is no harmful effect. Indeed, by many orders of magnitude, the most toxic substance in all of the wines was alcohol, which causes many proven harmful effects, including cancer. But once again we refer to Paracelsus and, to paraphrase, consume everything in moderation.

The story also failed to impart the science by relying only on the comment of someone whom appears to waver from modern toxicology. There is no accepted evidence of a harmful cocktail effect. Pesticides undergo intensive toxicological testing before approval and this testing includes metabolic breakdown products which are factored into Maximum Residue Limits.

Please ensure Decanter remains a bastion of truth, including informing us readers of relevant accepted science and not simply repeat opinion and belief.

Your critical-thinking approach to wine is one of the reasons I have been a subscriber for so long.

Gary Bowering MRSNZ

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