Do you ever read the fine print on your vinegar? I certainly did not, until one day I noticed my organic balsamic vinegar had a Proposition 65 warning! In fine print, the label reads:
This product contains lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.
There's lead in my vinegar! Sure, I accept there is lead in my children's toys, but in the vinegar we love on our salads...that's alarming! According to Napa Valley Naturals, makers of my favorite organic olive oil and balsamic vinegar,
All balsamic and red wine vinegars contain naturally occurring lead. Lead is naturally absorbed by all things that grow in the ground, including the grapes used to make vinegar. Most balsamic and red wine vinegars have lead levels equal to or less than 34 parts per million. An average person would need to consume 1 to 2 cups of balsamic or red wine vinegar per day to reach the Proposition 65 lead level minimum threshold, which includes a 1000-fold safety margin.
This may be true, that the lead level is low in balsamic vinegar, but in combination with all of the other ways my children may be exposed to lead, I am concerned. Also, if lead is naturally absorbed from the soil by plants, wouldn't all our food contain lead? Why doesn't my red wine vinegar contain the Proposition 65 warning?
In 2004, the Environmental Law Foundation of Oakland filed suit against vinegar makers and sellers. "There are balsamics that don't have elevated lead, which tells us it (safe manufacturing) can be done,'' said James Wheaton, head of the Environmental Law Foundation. This is one of the first cases to use California's right-to-know law into the grocery store.
There is some debate as to the cause of lead in balsamic vinegar, whether it is naturally occurring or a part of manufacturing. Tangergreen writes,
I have encountered two explanations of this, the first being that lead gets into vinegar during the process of manufacturing, and the other being that wine grapes suck lead up out of the ground. There seems to be some bias behind both of these explanations, leaving us, the consumer, with only the fact that there is enough lead in red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar to merit the proposition 65 warning.
The manufacturing of balsamic vinegar is similar to the production of fine wine. Does that mean there is lead in my wine? Well, at least my gasoline is lead-free.
Image courtesy of WorldPantry.com.