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[SANET-MG] gm wine
The dangers of genetically modified wine yeast
By Erica Martenson
Tuesday, December 12, 2006 6:39 AM PST
Despite the Wine Institute’s recent statement that no genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) should be used in winemaking, the Sacramento
Bee recently reported that, according to American Tartaric Products, the
first wines made with a genetically modified wine yeast, ML01, will be
released this year.
This yeast is available only in North America where GMOs are
unregulated. It was modified by inserting two foreign genes, one from
the pombe yeast, a yeast found in Africa and used to make beer, and one
from the bacteria O. oeni, so that the alcoholic and malolactic
fermentations, normally a two-step process, occur at the same time.
While this may be a convenience to winemakers, especially those
producing large quantities of wine, I am concerned for both consumers
and our local economy.
The FDA’s designation of this yeast as GRAS (Generally Recognized as
Safe) is questionable for a few reasons. First of all, the FDA approved
the yeast based on data supplied by the developer, not based on its own
study or an independent study. A developer has an interest in getting
its product to market as soon as possible, whether it has been proven
safe or not. Secondly, according to Professor Joseph Cummins, emeritus
genetics professor at the University of Western Ontario, wine yeasts are
unstable, and genetically altering them can lead to unexpected toxicity
in the final product. He states that there is no evidence that the
developer did any animal feeding studies to test for such toxicity and
that there is no proof that the yeast and yeast DNA will not be present
in the wine.
A few wineries’ decision to use this yeast could affect the entire North
American market. Since these wines are unlabeled, the only way people
can avoid them is to avoid all wines from North America, except those
labeled organic, and few wines are labeled organic, due to the addition
of sulfites during the winemaking process. Consumers in Europe and Asia
are very informed regarding GMOs and have resoundingly rejected them.
American consumers are becoming more aware, and polls show that a
majority of Americans would prefer to avoid them.
A few wineries’ choice to use ML01 could also be a nuisance to other
wineries, because this GM wine yeast could contaminate native and
traditional wine yeasts through the air, surface waste and water runoff.
Many wineries here in the Napa Valley are very particular about their
choice of wine yeast, and contamination of these various yeast strains
would truly be a shame.
I contacted many of the large producers of Napa Valley wine asking
whether or not they have used this GM yeast or plan to in the future.
All that responded stated emphatically that they have not used it and do
not plan to. To help consumers who would prefer to avoid consuming
genetically modified products make an informed wine choice and to
provide an avenue for our local wineries to distinguish their wines from
wines that may be using GM yeast, those that responded were listed, with
their permission, on a “Shopper’s Guide to Buying Non-GMO” at
www.preservenapasag.org on the FAQs page.
In our society, we often talk about our rights and discuss very little
our responsibilities — to our neighbors, to the environment and to the
community as a whole. In considering the issue of GMOs and their use,
all of these factors should be taken into account.
(Martenson lives in Napa.)
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