American wine makers have reached a voluntary agreement with federal health officials to reduce the levels of urethane in wine. The compound, a carcinogen in animal tests, is naturally present in trace amounts in some alcoholic beverages, primarily as a result of fermentation.
The accord, effective with wines made from the 1988 grape harvest, was announced Monday by the Wine Institute, a San Francisco-based trade group, the Assn. of American Vintners in East Rochester, N.Y., and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The plan is a response a call by the Center for Science in the Public Interest for a ban on alcohol products containing measurable levels of the chemical. Similar regulatory action was taken by Canadian officials in 1985 after laboratory analyses detected minute levels of urethane in a variety of table wines, dessert or fortified wines and whiskeys.
In this instance, though, the pact calls for domestic producers to reduce the industrywide average of urethane to 15 parts per billion in table wines made from the 1988 harvest. Dessert wines, also covered by the agreement, are to maintain an average of 60 ppb, beginning with the 1989 vintage. Some dessert wines now have a urethane level of 400 ppb.
A further reduction, using a different formula, will occur by 1995.
(A similar voluntary plan, struck between the FDA and a distillers trade group in December, 1987, calls for a reduction in urethane levels to 125 ppb beginning with spirit production on Jan. 1, 1989.)