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Micro-Agglomerates: 350 Million Illegal Corks Per Year?

See: FDA, Diam Respond To WII Request For Comment On Agglom Corks for updated information.


 

Agglomerated cork manufacturers and importers are facing scrutiny from two major federal agencies over health concerns about the plastic used to bind bits of cork glued together. The concern is that chemicals in the binding plastic can leach into  wine.

The Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are both looking into the use of one of those chemicals: toluene diisocyanate polyurethane (TDI), which is listed as a potential carcinogen by both the International Agency for Research on Cancer and  the National Toxicological Program (NTP).

A micro-agglo cork from one of the author's recent purchases.

An agglomerated cork from one of the author’s recent purchases.

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A micro-agglo cork from one of the author’s recent purchases.

Of most concern are so-called “micro-agglo” corks which have the highest ratios of plastic binder to cork dust and bits.

Statistics from Nielsen and high-level industry sources indicate that  micro-agglo corks are used in 350-400 million bottles of wine sold every year in the U.S.

Industry sources also say there is no credible data on what percentage of those corks use TDI as a binder, but a consensus of is that most do. The NTP indicates that TDI has many uses in addition to binding agglomerated corks. Some of those include the manufacture of polyurethane foam, construction sealants, carpet underlayment, shoe soles, surfboards, rollerskate wheels, pond liners and blood bags.

While exact numbers are carefully guarded, market sources say that, globally, about 1/3 of all wines under $4 for a 750ml bottle use agglomerated corks. That has begun to migrate upwards toward the $10 level.

Knowledgeable sources say that aggloms cost from $0.08-0.15 per cork. That price range is approximately the same as  synthetic corks which range from $0.03-0.15.

Those prices contrast with solid natural cork, which can range from $0.20 to $0.75 each.

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Close-up of the end of an agglomerated cork showing wine penetration into cork and fissures between cork bits where the plastic seems to have dissolved. Photo from a recent purchase by this article’s author.

Close-up of the end of a micro-agglo cork showing fissures between cork bits where the plastic seems to have dissolved. Photo from a recent purchase by this article's author.

Close-up of the end of a micro-agglo cork showing wine penetration into cork and fissures between cork bits where the plastic seems to have dissolved. Photo from a recent purchase by this article’s author.

Wine Industry Insight reached out to every major agglomerated cork marketer doing business in the United States. Only Amorim responded on the record.

Spokesman Pedro Fernandes emailed to say that, “Amorim will not comment on any activity by FDA.  We recommend that you contact FDA directly for information on their activities  With regard to our products,  Amorim stands by the longstanding proven safety of its cork products.”

FDA Vague, Passive

Competition is fierce for the low-end market which is why a synthetic cork association blew the TDI whistle on agglomerates in a letter to the FDA.

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And while the FDA has issued a long-winded opinion letter that agglomerated corks containing TDI are not legal for use as wine closures, it has, so far, failed to describe or address any potential health issues.

In addition, the FDA has failed to respond to Wine Industry Insight’s repeated inquiries concerning what action it may take, whether it has contacted any cork manufacturers, or if it is considering a public notice or recall.

Wine Executive News subscribers please click here to read the complete 1,411-word article.

Also In This Article:

The full text of the following sections is available to premium subscribers of Wine Executive News.

  • EPA Taking More Immediate Action On All TDI

  • What’s The EPA’s Beef With TDI?

  • The Migration Problem & Unknowns

  • Agglomerated and 1+1 Cork Closures Inadvertently Swept Up By Proposed EPA Action

  • Synthetic Cork Competitor Blew TDI Whistle On Aggloms, Sparked FDA Opinion (But No Action Yet)

  • The “Other” Chemical Issue

Additional Wine Industry Insight Coverage:

 

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