Food Policy

Wine Cork Makers Set Out to Prove Their Stoppers Are Safe

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It's no secret that Thomas Jefferson relished wine. Lesser known is his longstanding interest in wine corks.

Even lesser known still, perhaps, is the fact that Jefferson was also a devotee of the Harm Principle, an affinity that I discussed in a law-review article a few years ago. That principle holds that a person's actions should be permitted unless and until they harm others. Its converse, the Precautionary Principle, holds that a person's actions should not be permitted unless and until they are proven not to harm others.

With these facts in mind, I traveled last summer to Portugal and Spain with several wine experts and fellow writers to tour the operations of DIAM, one of the largest wine cork makers in the world. (In the interest of full disclosure, DIAM footed the bill for my travel, food, and lodging. I received no payment for my time.)

We flew into Lisbon and drove across the Spanish border to San Vicente de Alcantara, near Caceres, where DIAM makes many of its corks. Once there, our daylong activities included a detailed tour of the DIAM factory and a visit to the nearby cork forest where DIAM obtains cork, which is made from the bark of the eponymous tree.

As I learned on the DIAM tour, the company's agglomerated corks are made from natural cork that's first pulverized. The impurities are then removed. Finally, the pure cork that remains is glued back together into the familiar wine cork shape.

Agglomerated corks have two key benefits over competing corks. First, they cost less than natural corks. Second, they eliminate the problem of cork "taint," a musty taste caused by the presence of a substance found in cork, TCA, that often ruins wines before they're ever opened.

Sounds great. Still, concern was raised by a wine writer last month, who suggested, quite wrongly in my opinion, that agglomerated corks may be illegal.

How's that?

The writer, Lewis Purdue of Wine Industry Insight, suggested that the binding agent used by agglomerated cork makers could be leeching into wine. That agent, TDI, is listed as a potential carcinogen. If it were to migrate from cork to wine, that would be bad.

But testing by DIAM and others has shown no detectable level of TDI in wine, meaning there's no evidence the substance migrates from cork to wine. DIAM also says, firmly, that no such migration occurs.

"Of course we guarantee there's no TDI migration," said François Margot, a sales manager with DIAM, told Wine Business writer Cyril Penn.

In that case, there's no problem, says the FDA. As the FDA explains, agency rules generally permit food packaging to come into contact with food so long as it's not "reasonably expected to result in substances becoming components of" food.

Why any fuss over agglomerated corks? It stems not from any FDA interest but, rather, from a push by competitors of agglomerated cork makers.

Sintesi, which represents a handful of Italian non-agglomerated cork makers, "approached the FDA with questions about the regulatory status of polyurethane binders used for agglomerated cork," reported Penn.

There's a long history of advocates and competitors alike—from CSPI to Coca-Cola—siccing the FDA on food makers. And while it's easy today to picture the FDA as the nation's leading opponent of raw milk, that wasn't always the case. In fact, it took a court order from a federal judge in the mid-1980s, thanks to a lawsuit by Ralph Nader's Public Citizen, to force the agency to ban interstate sales of raw milk.

I don't besmirch Wine Industry Insight's Purdue for inquiring about the issue, even if he's the only one besides competitors of agglomerated corks who's beating the drum. And I'm not naive enough to think that I can ascertain the safety of a wine cork—or of anything, for that matter—simply because I visited the factory where the cork is made.

But the FDA is raising no red flags.

"Based on the data and information available to us, we have identified no safety issues with this use of TDI-based PU in agglomerated corks," wrote the FDA in response to a Wine Industry Insight inquiry. "Accordingly, FDA is not contemplating any enforcement action against the agglomerated corks or wine, is not recommending that wines already sold or in the supply chain with agglomerated cork closures or agglomerated corks be recalled, and is not recommending a cessation of the marketing and purchasing of the agglomerated corks for use with wine and beverages at this time."

But, going back to the Harm Principle, which is generally the rule for much of our food-safety system, the FDA has no proof that agglomerated corks are safe.

"FDA cannot make a complete determination of safety without reviewing a complete data package," the agency also noted.

That's because food and beverage manufacturers needn't prove to the FDA that their food is safe. That's Jefferson's Harm Principle in action. But absent research proving such food is safe, inquiries like the one around agglomerated corks may continue. That's enough to spur DIAM and other agglomerated cork makers to stick a cork in it.

They'll have the opportunity to prove the safety of their corks to the FDA, which has now asked that every maker of agglomerated cork voluntarily submit a food contact notification to the agency. That's something DIAM and other agglomerated cork makers are no doubt happy to do, even if it suggests a needless turn toward the Precautionary Principle that Thomas Jefferson detested. Still, it's a turn that may help make regulatory discussions of TDI in wine corks as much a thing of the past as agglomerated cork makers are helping to make cork taint.

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104 responses to “Wine Cork Makers Set Out to Prove Their Stoppers Are Safe

  1. Whatever reduces the scourge of “taint”, I’m all for.

    1. I don’t want a cork anywhere near my taint.

    2. I make up to $90 an hour working from my home. My story is that I quit working at Walmart to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $40h to $86h? Someone was good to me by sharing this link with me, so now i am hoping i could help someone else out there by sharing this link… Try it, you won’t regret it!……
      http://www.work-cash.com

  2. What can you do?

    Life goes on…

    1. But without a cork, the thrill of living is gone…

      /kidding

    2. You can uncork your wine as fast as possible….just as I am doing right fucking now….

  3. Do you not understand that if food (and wine) is not produced in the same ways as hundreds or thousands of years a go it’s not ‘safe’? Hell,it’s not even ‘organic’!!

    1. When do I get my silicon-based food?

      1. Automotive Section

    2. The US has had a bumper crop of corn, and this is like the 5th year in a row China refuses to buy it (despite it being the cheapest), because some of it is “GMO”. Ooooo….GMO! 3spooky5me, m9!

      Perhaps the yan huang zisun should focus on shit like melamine in their infant formula or their fast food restaurants serving rotten meat before indulging in the luxury of having European-like food policies that are derived from fairy tales.

      1. Maybe their taking the one child policy a step farther.

      2. I’m interested in why so many of the same people who find the climate science ‘consensus’ to be so bogus turn around and mock people who are suspect of the same regarding GMOs. If you ever spent time listening to those people it’s remarkable how similar their points are to the AGW crowd (government conspiracy, funding drives the consensus, ‘new’ science can’t be trusted, etc).

        1. Bo, I will indulge you just a little bit. It isn’t climate science that is suspect (any more than any field of science, see e.g. diet over the last 50 years), it is the unscientific pronouncements that attach themselves to climate studies – things like: OMFG the world is doomed if we don’t turn the economic system and standard of living back 500 years.

          Science doesn’t deal with certainties, least of all predictions about future events based on unsubstantiated theory. And it is unsubstantiated – as in the last month I have read that Antarctic ice has both thickened and thinned. Now, all of the scientific evidence to date says GMOs are safe but there is no science that says there is no possibility that they could cause harm. That would be because the latter is not actually science.

          1. Short answer agronomists do science ie test hypotheses via observations and rejecting the ones that are falsified.

            Climate science is more akin to Lysenkoism, where the evidence that contradicts a politically favored hypothesis is officially ignored and scientists who don’t toe the line face consequences such as loss of funding & smear campaigns. One notable red flag is the penchant of climate scientists to use failed models in their analyses, occasionally preferring to use model outputs in lieu of the direct observations of those same parameters.

            1. “Climate science is more akin to Lysenkoism, where the evidence that contradicts a politically favored hypothesis is officially ignored and scientists who don’t toe the line face consequences such as loss of funding & smear campaigns. ”

              The anti-GMO says this kind of thing about that all the time…

              1. The anti-GMO crowd is full of luddites who wouldn’t know hypothesis-test-repeat if it hit them in the ass with a wet mackerel.

            2. Climate science is more akin to Lysenkoism

              First rate analogy. Well done.

            3. I think you mean “tow the lion”.

          2. “It isn’t climate science that is suspect (any more than any field of science, see e.g. diet over the last 50 years), it is the unscientific pronouncements that attach themselves to climate studies”

            That’s well said, that’s how I see it as well.

        2. I second juris imprudent. I have no doubt that man’s activities are warming the world. But the extent to which the alarmists lie, exaggerate, and otherwise panic make me highly suspicious of their motives to start with, and then there are those ridiculous models which can’t even predict, in hindsight, the last 17 years of non-warming. Every few months there is some new revelation about better models, and you learn that this new model is the first to incorporate cloud cover, or humidity, or arctic coverage, or some other aspect which an uninformed lay person like me has a hard time understanding why previous models were considered so good without it. I remember one announcement just a couple of years ago where the modeler bragged that one indication of his new model’s superiority was that its prediction of 2100 temps was twice as much off as existing models.

          Then there’s their suggestions for how to counteract the effects of global warming — they want to shut down the economy, stop all fossil fuels and switch the entire world over to renewables, for starters. Yet even a simple economic analysis shows how much better the world would be if we simply spend as necessary when necessary, instead of crippling the current and future economies on projects which may not even mitigate any of the effects they claim.

        3. Because –

          GMO opponents claim GMO’s are dangerous yet can produce *no evidence* that this is so.

          Anthropogenic Climate change supporters claim climate change is dangerous yet can produce no evidence that humanity is having an effect on climate.

          In both cases, those who are making ‘positive’ claims can provide no evidence to back those claims up.

          1. Well said, good point.

        4. Maybe they’re deciding by facts and not attempting to be conformist or contrarian to a consensus.

      3. All food today is gmo

        1. Right you are. Unless you’re a hunter-gatherer, everything you eat has been genetically modified, at least through a long history of selective breeding. We’re just getting much more efficient at doing it.

        2. Well, but there’s obviously something new to it that’s going on. Revolutionary is the word GMO scientists use to describe their own breakthroughs when they’re crowing about that.

          1. Eh, the only thing *new* is that the modern *techniques* are faster and more reliable.

            In the past, to GMO an organism, you had to either wait for a desired mutation to show up (the aaaaaaaancient agricultural method) or you exposed your organism to mutagens (radiation usually) – then you inbreed and crossbreed until that mutation breeds true.

            Could take decades of dedicated effort (see – dog breeding) to pay off.

            Now, you cut-n-snip and see the pay-off in moths to years.

            Plus, you think those people fighting GMO’s think that irradiating their food and then breeding the mutants is *safer*?

            No they do not, they simply have no idea *how* this shit has been done for millennia.

            1. One thing they freak out about is cross-species genetic transfer.

              They like to describe it as unnatural, to say that cross-species genetic transfer never happens.

              1. Except that it happens *a lot*. Yes, even for ‘advanced’ organisms)
              2. nobody is (*yet*) doing this for stuff intended as *food* (rather than as a learning exercise).

              1. When I was growing up a kid on a nearby farm was caught attempting a ‘cross-species genetic transfer’. It sounded pretty unnatural to me, but I was just 6 so who was I to judge?

  4. The alcohol would probably kill your liver before the TDI gave you cancer, anyway.

  5. This Is What Festival Posters Look Like With All The Male Acts Removed

    Thankfully metal hasn’t been hit too hard by this shit, although there have been some under currents. I hope Derpetologist really ain’t dead, because he’d dig the comments way more than me, I don’t have the guts. I did like this one though:

    Guy asks for proof:

    Justin Boland ? Producer at Diamond Cvtter
    Gloria Jones if its such a myth, then provide us with a list of niche women performers that are of the same caliber and talent as men listed on these festival flyers.

    If anyone ghost wrote for Bassnectar it was ill.gates, which are even just rumors in themself. I’m also gonna need some more proof for your insane claims

    Response:

    Katharine Seggerman
    dude you need to stop demanding women provide proof for every statement we make, especially regarding the misogyny we face on a daily basis and that you do not. it’s really exhausting and a waste of our time–it’s called the internet, look up your own proof.

    1. Justin Boland ? Producer at Diamond Cvtter
      I can do whatever I want and make any demands I choose, its a goddamn free country (or free internet space, in this case), she doesn’t have to retort or respond if she doesn’t want to. Also if you’ve ever been in a proper educated debate you would know that proof is necessary for anyone making claims. Without anything to back a statement there is no validity in the statement, that’s just logic not “misogyny”. The reason I did ask her for proof is because I did in fact research the claims she was making and found very little backing or validity in her statements. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings Katharine and exhausted you over a simple internet debate, get over it.

      Katharine Seggerman
      So now you are assuming I am uneducated? That I didn’t go to Yale, not that that should matter? “if you’ve ever been in a proper educated debate”–excellent, mansplaining yet again

      1. Tsk, tsk, tsk, Katherine. Tsk, tsk, bah.

      2. Katharine, dear, the more you talk the more those of us who actually think from time to time wonder if allowing women to vote was such a great idea……

        1. I love the ‘now you’re calling me an idiot?’ routine.

          The default position for people who got nothing but vapid hyperbole.

          1. She says ‘now you’re calling me uneducated?’ And he kind of did say that.

            It’s funny, ‘constantly demanding proof’ for ‘background’ type claims is the kind of thing people often complain about me or Tulpa doing, but when it’s a guy doing it to a feminist it’s all good I guess…

            1. It’s not what he said or inferred at all.

              He asked for proof. Asking for proof is not asserting someone is uneducated.

              At. All.

              1. “Also if you’ve ever been in a proper educated debate…”

                Come on, that’s not implying she’s uneducated (or more specifically hasn’t had an educated debate)?

                1. I don’t think he meant it in the day you and she took it.

                  But I can see why you would.

                  I guess I’m more thick-skinned than the average putz.

                  And no, I’m not calling you a putz.

                2. Certainly querying she may not have been in an educated debate. Quite different from implying she’s uneducated.

            2. It’s always about you, isn’t it?

      3. I feel like I’m needed to moderate those two…

    2. “There’s plenty of female performers but you know what always happens, some dude bro assumes she hires someone to write her beats while all the main acts are the ones paying ghost writters… Assuming women just aren’t as good or interested in making music IS mysoginy…”

      God damn you, Slammer.

    3. “a list of niche women performers that are of the same caliber and talent as men listed on these festival flyers.”

      This isn’t exactly a factual rebuttal of the article, considering musical caliber and talent is so subjective, but the idiots who wrote the article kind of deserve it.

      1. The thing that gets the the most about these debates is that the truth never seems to be accurately represented. Whether it’s music or comedy or whatever. The truth is that 1. you need to actually try to do something to do it well, but 2. that isn’t a guarantee that someone won’t think you suck anyway. So there are more male musicians and comedians because more of them make it as a career, but it doesn’t mean that feminists should give up and accept that men are more talented because accepting that someone has a particular career doesn’t mean accepting that they are absolutely superior in that skill. My view: there are more male musicians and comedians than female musicians and comedians, but the vast majority of them are crap.

        1. The rule might be less true of classical musicians though, since you need more than a cool haircut and luck to make it.

          1. But how many classical musicians are both writing their own (new) stuff *and* enjoying success.

            From what I’ve seen, very few classicists are able to hit both. Most are great musicians, but they play the same ‘greatest hits of the last millennia’ album as their peers. And those that try to write new stuff – most of the new stuff is crap (like most of the old stuff was, we’re just seeing the best of the best passing the test of time).

            1. Probably true. Which kind of ties in with the biggest factor of success – demand. If your tastes correlate to demand, then your favorite artists will be the most successful. But if you like, say, polka you’re probably never going to see your favorite group on a music festival poster.

              I wonder if part of the reason you see so many male-dominated bands on music festival posters is that the market currently demands it. Right now people seem to want their bands to have guys and their solo artists to be women.

        2. The truth is that men, generally speaking, are simply better at music. Better at writing it, better at performing it. Of course there are plenty of talented woman musicians of all stripes, but generally speaking as a sex, men are better at it. It has to do with testosterone or something. Look it up.

      2. Its *subjective* sure, but not unmeasurable.

        ‘Who is good’ can be pretty closely mapped to ‘who is making a lot of money’.

        1. If that’s true, then the gender balance is closer than those film festival posters indicate. I think the musician with the highest net worth is Madonna.

          1. That is if “musician” is synonymous with “recording artist”

          2. Personally, I don’t correlate the two factors. The top paid recording artists last year include names like Beyonce, Taylor Swift and One Direction. My tastes are not closely aligned to that of an average teenage girl.

  6. If the wine industry was smart they would use this conflict as an excuse to move fully away from corkage towards screw tops.

    1. IMHO, the best wines come out of a box.

      1. IMHO, the best wines are called “beer”.

        1. And unless your beer is Chimay… [ pause to open a bottle to be sure] ,which is stoppered with an agglomerated cork, your beer is most likely either capped, in a BPA lined can or a stainless steel keg.

          1. I drink either tap beer (from a keg) or bottled beer. Plastic lined cans hold my beer very, very rarely.

      2. Who the hell killed your taste buds, CJ?

        1. Alcoholism.

      3. Boxes also have the advantage of keeping it fresh after it has been opened. It’s nice that more good wine is being put in boxes.

        1. You mean plastic bags inside boxes, right?

        2. Thought you wrote ‘boxers’ at first….comment still applies, though….

    2. They’ve already moved to synthetic corks. Amalgamated corks are shit. More likely to pull apart and leave a big chunk blocking the neck and little bits of cork floating in the wine. It’s all well and good to say their being unfairly maligned, but you’re defending buggy whips here.

      Screw tops would be fine, bladders would be even better. This is not new technology. The problem is too many wine snobs that don’t have a clue.

      1. agglomerated not amalgamated. Stupid spell check.

      2. If you blow air into the empty bladder from a box of wine, it also serves as a pillow.

        1. That could make me appear very wise at an after party pass out.

        2. I’m going to make a water bed out of them.

      3. Yeah. I like real corks because I enjoy old-timey shit. But synthetic corks are superior.

      4. Bladders, I assume you mean plastic bags, are air permeable and not good for long term storage.

    3. Platic bag in a cardboard box with a twist valve on the side.

    4. Australian and New Zealander wineries have moved to screw caps, though I don’t know what their reasoning was.

      1. Actually, New Zealand wines have been using screw caps since they began globally marketing their wines 20 years ago. They were the pioneers of premium wines being put into screw cap bottles.

      2. They’re better and cheaper than corks?

  7. How about some wimenz VCs?

    “Kleiner Perkins prevails in Ellen Pao sex-bias case”
    Pretty solid smack-down; all four claims denied, but like Katherine above:
    “”Ellen Pao’s case is a win for any woman facing gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace, in Silicon Valley and beyond,” said Felicia Medina, a San Francisco managing partner at Sanford Heisler Kimpel who has worked on several large gender discrimination cases.”
    We don’t need no stinking guy-proofs here!
    http://www.sfgate.com/news/art…..163669.php

    1. As I said yesterday, if you can’t make a single cause of action stick in a CA employment case, you belong in another line of work.

      Any any attorney calling that a win? Also should consider a new line of work.

  8. Stop giving Chuck Schumer ideas!

  9. If we moved away from a Precautionary Principle based society wouldn’t a great many extremely wealthy and powerful people lose much, if not all, of the wealth and power they derive from the Precautionary Principle scam? It’s not like they’re the kind of people who could ever make an honest living.

  10. Meh. FDA banned the lead-foil protective sleeve over the cork in the 90s without hard evidence that it was leeching into the wine.

    They can go for the precautionary principle whenever they want under Regulation FYTW.

    Since there are no cork tree plantations in the US to apply pressure, I can’t see anything that would stop the FDA if synthetic cork manufacturers here pushed the issue. The only thing that would slow them down with respect to wine packaging is that they couldn’t credibly use the “for the children” argument.

    1. . . . that they couldn’t credibly use the “for the children” argument.

      How about – failure to regulate this important issue reduces the confidence our children will have that the government is capable of ensuring safety and not in the pocket of big business cronys.

      Hmm, needs work – I’ll have the intern orphans run a brainstorming session to see what they come up with.

  11. The info I have is that the health risk is probably minimal to nonexistent, but that leaching does occur – apparently a significant proportion of people can detect the leachate smell in the fake-cork wine, for instance. And I hear that these Portuguese corkmakers are some sleazy motherfuckers to boot.

    1. Wait, are you saying that companies with potential billion dollar liabilities would drop $10-20k each on junkets for compliant “journalists” because they have nothing to hide? And that the grateful journalists would then not really question the companies’ claims and seek other opinions? Huh.

        1. Put a cork in it, you weirdo.

          1. You are tempting the Rule 34 fates, aren’t you?

  12. Remember the Penn State Abington professor that went on a rant about Venezuela on plane? She’s no longer teaching, but is still employed at Penn State.

  13. When a company spends 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars to fly reporters out to their factory, you have to wonder what value the company is getting out of it.

    And the next question a reported should ask is why.

    1. *reporter*

      It’s still early here.

  14. One more OT post: Penny sells for $1.2 million. Note the slogan on the penny (“Liberty Parent Of Science and Industry”) and for the mush-brained morons behind the “Put a Woman on the $20 Bill” movement, the picture of a woman.

  15. It’s no secret that Thomas Jefferson relished wine

    I toured Monticello several years ago. The tour guide mentioned that according to Jefferson’s diary, when Lafayette came to visit, the two plus other guests went through 1500 bottles of wine in a week.

    1. Tying one on helps facilitate raping and beating slaves?

      1. I don’t know… but, I’m sure it helps in tolerating tiresome assholes.

        1. Brawls aren’t fun unless you’re really trashed.

    2. Back then they drank wine because they couldn’t trust the water.

  16. ” the Precautionary Principle, holds that a person’s actions should not be permitted unless and until they are proven not to harm others.”

    That is insanity. You cannot prove a negative.

  17. I’m VERY disappointed no one (Ted took a lazy stab at it) took my Corky reference up thread and ran with it.

    /shakes head staring at Reason crew.

  18. Just switch to screw tops already! They work better, but everyone insists on futzing around with stupid corks because of stupid social signaling BS.

  19. the more I find out about Ralph Nader the more I despise him

    1. That’s no longer true for me. My despise meter reading on Nader is already pegged.

  20. I liked Spanish wine when I tasted it while being in Torrevieja http://torreviejaspain.livejournal.com/704.html

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